Narratives and the Constitution of a Common Identity: The Karen in Burma

Yoko Kuroiwa, Maykel Verkuyten

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This research was conducted in an informal school located in Thailand at the border with Myanmar (Burma) and supervised by the Karen National Union (KNU). The KNU has claimed and fought for political autonomy and independence from the Burmese government for more than a half century. The authors examine how, in their narratives about what it means to be Karen, future Karen leaders try to deal with challenges to a sense of Karen unity and “groupness,” and to the legitimacy of the Karen struggle. One important challenge is the substantial cultural, religious, linguistic, and geographical internal diversity. Establishing a coherent Karen identity among the different subgroups is a continuing struggle for Karen leaders. Another is the negative labeling of the KNU as stubborn people and violent terrorists. These labels endanger the political project, the international reputation, and the local attractiveness of the KNU.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)391
Number of pages1
JournalIdentities: Global Studies in Culture and Power
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • narratives
  • Myanmar
  • Burma
  • identity
  • Karen

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