In a regime in transition with a legacy of civil war, in which institutions that govern a society are often destabilized as a host of state and non-state authorities vie for legitimacy in order to gain or maintain power, land often becomes central to such power struggles. This is the case in Myanmar - a country that is undergoing a regime in transition and which has faced challenges to unification since its independence in 1947 as a result of armed conflict between numerous ethnic minority groups and the Burman-dominant state. To understand how this impacts the local communities, research was conducted since 2013 about Chin State. This study uses the concept of “fragmented sovereignty”, which refers to how state and non-state actors compete to define institutions that govern society, to explain the way not only the land itself, but also the institutions that govern it are fought over. Referred to as property institutions, this indicates that there are relations among social actors with regard to the land that “exist at the level of laws and regulations, cultural norms and social values” backed up by “the state or some other form of politico-legal authority”.

Applying this lens to this empirical case, this study discusses how in recent post-conflict context such as Myanmar, property institutions are being co-produced rather than determined by any one source of authority—leading to varying outcomes within one country. At times, the state’s sovereignty is further challenged; at other times, it could cohere further as state authority is appealed to for the protection of property rights. In the meantime, the impositions of state-backed private property laws on Chin State are leading to worsened livelihoods and greater vulnerability to poverty in some areas, as demonstrated by reduced land access for some communities.

The article concludes that various Chin political entities and the communities they represent are brought more closely in contact with the state in negotiations over the construction of property institutions— which have largely been left undisturbed by state law for centuries. This in turn can further shape state-subject relationships as hill communities increasingly recognize that the state can create and sustain property rights.
Independent Journal of Burmese Scholarship
International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)

Mark, S. (2016). “Fragmented Sovereignty” over Property Institutions: Developmental Impacts on the Chin Hill Communities. Independent Journal of Burmese Scholarship, 1(1), 125–160. Retrieved from