This interview was conducted via video on March 27, 2020. Dr. Elliot Prasse-Freeman spoke with me from Singapore, where he is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the National University of Singapore. WPF had originally planned to host Elliot for an on campus event on March 25, 2020–and we hope to re-schedule on the other side of the pandemic.

In this first clip, I introduce Elliot and he tells us a bit about the COVID-19 responses in Singapore.

“It’s not their first rodeo. Whereas at least from the outside, it seems the U.S. isn’t handling things quite so smoothly…”

In this second clip, Elliot gives us an overview of the situation for Rohingya who are living in refugee camps around the wider region.

He notes, “There have been waves of this kind of expulsion over forty years…they live at the pleasures of their hosts…the fine print is that they don’t have any rights, they are not allowed to legally work, they cannot go to school…they’re in a perpetual state of social exclusion…”

The third clip gets to the heart of Elliot’s research on Rohingya ethnicity. In it, he discusses the tensions between asserting a Rohingya identity as a way to push back against violence suffered at the hands of the Myanmar state, while recognizing that identities evolve and are interpreted differently.

“One informant said, ‘you know people are 50/50. They’re fifty percent for saving themselves, and they’re fifty percent for defending the nation.’ And I think that 50/50 often operates within individuals. So that half the time, you’re looking to save your life, and half the time you’re trying to do what’s good for this broader collective that you’re just, in some senses, coming to know for the first time.”

The final clip begins with me asking an extremely rambling question about both the democratization movement and how more complex theorization about ethnicity has practical implications. Elliot somehow turned it into a fascinating response.

Elliot recalls his previous research with democratization groups and how some of them (but far from all) continued to stick their necks out when the violence against Rohingya increased: “The activists groups, the democracy movement, is constantly dealing with this tension about to what extent do they have to be instrumental — and then sacrifice the process for the end goal-? And to what extent does that end up undermining and corrupting the message that they bring, and hence leading to a transition to a democratic government that is not worth the name.”
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