Current Institutional Affiliation
Post-Doctoral Fellow, Asia Center, Harvard University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2009
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Political Science, University of Washington
Coercion, Commodity Capital, and Warlord Emergence in Southeast Asia

Contrary to the view that both capitalism and the modern nation state are homogenizing forces that will inexorably advance on anachronistic instances of warlords, this form of autonomous authority persists in developing countries of the post-World War Two period. Social scientists have argued that "greed" for profits from natural resources and state failure account for the emergence of contemporary warlords. Through a focus (1) on the question of local access to resources and (2) the ability of local actors to use resources to develop authority, this dissertation provides a more complex explanation for the emergence of warlords. This dissertation develops a capital accumulation hypothesis arguing that the emergence of warlord authority stems from the employment of commodity capital by strong men as a basis for developing coercive and moral authority. The inability of state leaders to regulate commodities and the presence of "lootable" commodities determines whether strong men "capture" and employ commodity capital as a basis for establishing warlord authority. Through comparisons of three areas within Burma and three opium-producing regions in Burma, Laos, and Thailand during the post-War period, my dissertation tests three candidate explanations for the emergence of warlords.