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The biographical origins of political systems of Highland Burma

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Chapter Summary

Edmund Leach spent his longest period of anthropological fieldwork anywhere, in Burma. His time in Burma was punctuated by preparations for war, followed by three years fighting in northern Burma, where more than five nations had sent troops. Not only did Leach never return to Burma, he also discouraged readers and researchers from learning about the intellectual and experiential origins of his book, at least for twenty years after its publication. Even his preface to the book was cryptic about its origins. These origins, however, are important for the history of the social sciences because the book had such a wide impact. This chapter explores the origins of Political Systems of Highland Burma. It reviews the accessible sources in order to establish what is publicly known about Leach in the period in which he wrote the book, and to describe Leach’s later reflections about his earlier work.

Keywords: Edmund Leach; Political Systems of Highland Burma; social dynamics; Southeast Asia



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