Pop Culture, Art, and Indigenous Ideas of Legitimacy in Struggles over Democratization and Peace (POPAGANDA)

Led by Marte Nilsen

Apr 2021 – Mar 2025

​Several countries face difficult challenges in their political transitions from autocracy to a more democratic system.

Several countries face difficult challenges in their political transitions from autocracy to a more democratic system. How do political opposition groups in these countries use popular culture and art to generate legitimacy for their political causes and propagate their messages?

Myanmar and Thailand are both examples of countries that are caught up in long-standing conflicts and disagreements where minorities and opposition groups have built strong political visions and systems of ideology that are incompatible with the current political order of the ruling elites.

We find that opposition movements in these two countries utilize popular culture and art to generate political legitimacy in their struggles over democratization and peace. We also find that indigenous belief systems and cosmologies in these countries are not irrelevant relics of the past. They are phenomena with direct influence on today's politics and conflicts. The POPAGANDA research team therefore aims to unpack the role played by myths, cosmology, religion, spirituality, and magic in both generating and challenging political legitimacy. The research team investigates how such opposition groups and their supporters among artists reinvent narratives rooted in these ancient belief systems in their artistic expressions. We examine how popular culture and art are used to both generate the legitimacy of political opposition groups and contest that of the state. We then explore how this practice of contestation affects political processes and power structures.

This research, not only aims generate important insights into the dynamics of politics and violence in Myanmar and Thailand, it will also seeks to provide necessary building blocks to develop theory on how to understand unresolved violent and political struggles in other transitioning states.


The project involves partnerships with:

  • Titipol Phakdeewanich (Ubon Ratchathani University, Thailand)
  • Moon Awng Dashi (Naushawng Development Institute, Myanmar)
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