Aarhus Universitets segl

Departmental Seminar: A real-world Handmaid’s Tale? Female Militancy and Para-nationalism in the Wa State

Co-hosted with DFF-project The End of Ethics? Host: Hans Steinmüller, LSE Discussant: Nanna Schneidermann (AU)

Oplysninger om arrangementet


Onsdag 26. april 2023,  kl. 14:15 - 16:00


Lab 3 4205-212 & Zoom

Register for the event here!


Children captured by soldiers, mass weddings officiated by commanders, and marriages governed by army discipline: the government of the family in the Wa State of Myanmar today resembles Margaret Atwood’s fable of the Handmaid. Can women find their own voice in such an environment and if yes, how does female militancy look like? To tackle these problems, I describe the predicament of ‘para-nationalism’: the threat of war makes the sovereign assertion of cultural authenticity particularly urgent, but at the same time, and paradoxically, cancels the promotion of authenticity altogether. The same occurred to the meanings of ‘femininity’ in the state-building efforts of the Wa army. The military state at once essentialized gender boundaries and dissolved the same boundaries. Concretely, this meant that the universalism of ‘woman’ as (biological, emotional, and passive) mother arrived together with the particularism of the (cultural, rational, and active) female militant. As such, the historical lessons of gender and war in the Wa hills are perhaps not unlike a possible reading of the Handmaid’s Tale against the rise of the populist Right: that is, female militancy requires both universalist and particularist re-interpretations, and both need to be pragmatic.  

Responses and conversation led by Nanna Schneidermann, leading to more open questions and discussion.


Hans Steinmüller serves as international advisor to the DFF project: The End of Ethics? High-tech state moralism and popular surveillance in contemporary China (PI, Anders Sybrandt Hansen). Hans is an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at the London School of Economics. He is the author of Communities of Complicity: Everyday Ethics in Rural China (Berghahn, 2013), and has edited (with Natalia Buitron) The Ends of Egalitarianism (L’Homme, 2020).