Modernization, breakdown and structural configurations: Retrogression in Burma (1962–1988)

Kyi May Kaung, University of Pennsylvania


When the pro-democracy demonstrations broke out in Burma in 1988, the demonstrators quickly progressed from asking for minor concessions to calling for a complete system change. Most academic work on Burma, especially by native born Burmese, gingerly circumvents any discussion of politics. In this dissertation, using a comparative and theory building approach, an attempt is made to explain retrogression in Burma by the formulation of a theory of run-down. In 1962, the military government which staged a coup, and remains in force until today with minor changes, set up a Socialist-type economy based on the Stalinist model of rapid industrialization through exploitation of agriculture, with the exception that collective farms were not formed. The Burmese “model,” if there is conscious model, is compared to various policy changes in the USSR and the PRC, and the conclusion is reached that the Burmese approach was ad hoc and opportunistic for the ruling military elite rather than a formalistic imitation. The strategist in the form of the paramount leader or CEO sets up a top-down control structure. This structure has many similarities to the authoritarian structure of the pre-colonial Burmese monarchies. In the colonial period, the basic bureaucratic structure of the former kingdom was more or less left intact. In the dynasties before colonization, increased control was viewed as success, but as control was increased, the economic base of the country declined. In the post-1962 period, it is seen that control has also led to decline. The process by which this takes place has been termed the reverse prismatic process; in that it reverses the normal tendency of development to create pyramidal structures with diverse and separate apexes (Fred Rigg's prismatic process). Instead, we see in Burma, that enforced control from the top has produced an artificial single-apex simple structure which effectively constrains all economic and political development. This run-down is the reason the people called for a systemic change in 1988.

Subject Area

Economic theory|Public administration|Social structure

Recommended Citation

Kaung, Kyi May, "Modernization, breakdown and structural configurations: Retrogression in Burma (1962–1988)" (1994). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3116650.