Leicester academic's new book examines little-known refugee group

Posted by mjs76 at Apr 16, 2010 04:45 PM |
The Karenni people of Myanmar rarely bother the news, but their forced exile from home has affected their lives in many ways.

Dr Sandra Dudley currently works in our School of Museum Studies but she is by training an anthropologist and that is the focus of her new book, Materialising Exile: Material Culture and Embodied Experience among Karenni Refugees in Thailand. The text stems from Dr Dudley’s experiences living among the Karenni people of Myanmar (formerly Burma).

The political history of Burma/Myanmar is little known in the West and far too complex to summarise here; the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) has probably the best online explanation. Suffice to say that the Karenni people originate from a small state (now called Kayah) in the east of the country but there has been political unrest in that area for more than fifty years. Consequently many Karenni live in refugee camps on the Thai/Myanmar border – and this is where Dr Dudley first ventured in 1996, when she was studying for her doctorate at Oxford.

Since then she has visited the camps a number of times, living among the Karenni people as a teacher. Although the current political situation has put an end to such visits, Dr Dudley is still in contact with a number of her Karenni contacts, some of whom have left the country to settle in Europe, Australia or North America.

Materialising Exile was published last month by Berghahn Books. According to the publisher, the book “addresses the current lack of theoretical analysis of the material, visual, spatial, and embodied aspects of forced migration, providing a fundamentally interlinked analysis of enforced exile and materiality.”

There is a museum studies angle to Dr Dudley’s research too as she is investigating the displacement of objects now. Two collections of Karenni items, mainly textiles, are housed in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford and the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery.