How do indigenous movements bring about new forms of political sovereignty in global borderland zones, operating between the logics of the state and international human rights law? Against a backdrop of ongoing armed conflict, the extraction of coveted resources, and neocolonial technocratic interventions, my research explores how Kachin environmental activists and media-makers design political alternatives that seek to realize self-determination in the realm of land and natural resource governance.
My dissertation, “Imagining Political Futures in Kachinland: The Struggle for Self-determination through Legal Activism and Indigenous Media,” draws on feminist and sensory ethnographic methods to investigate two political practices— the creation of indigenous law and new media (e.g. Karaoke music videos)—through which Kachin activists and media-makers imagine a different future, one defined by environmental self-determination. Grants from the National Science Foundation, Wenner-Gren Foundation, Social Science Research Council, and École Française d'Extrême-Orient supported 18 months of participant observation and ethnographic filmmaking in Kachinland, an unrecognized state in the borderland region of Myanmar, India, China, and Thailand.
My research contributes to the fields of indigenous media, political and legal anthropology, and feminist epistemology. While scholars have often focused on how law or media can serve as tools of state domination, my research examines law and media within a single frame, ultimately revealing the two as fertile ground for the exercise of political imagination. My work also contributes to methodological innovation, by complementing a discursive focus on law and sovereignty with affective and embodied methodologies attending to the “touch and feel” of political belonging.
As a companion to my dissertation and book project, I am the director and cinematographer for a feature-length documentary film titled ABOVE AND BELOW THE GROUND. The film highlights the struggles of frontline environmental activists—indigenous women and punk rock pastors—to resist the massive Myitsone Dam through protest, prayer, and Karaoke music videos. A teaser for the film is available here.
Emily Hong is a Seoul-born and New York-raised feminist anthropologist and filmmaker. She is an advanced doctoral candidate at Cornell University in the Department of Anthropology, with concentrations in Film & Video Studies and Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies. Emily’s research interests include political and legal anthropology, feminist and decolonial epistemology, indigenous media and ethnographic film. Emily’s research, films, and public engagements are largely rooted in Thailand and Myanmar, where she has spent a decade, first as a human rights campaigner and trainer, and later as a filmmaker and researcher.
Emily’s documentary films, video installations, and transmedia projects combine feminist and decolonial ethnographic approaches with the power of impact-oriented storytelling. She has directed several films including GET BY (2014), NOBEL NOK DAH (2015), and FOR MY ART (2016), which have explored issues of solidarity and labor across lines of race and class, womanhood and identity in the refugee experience, and the gendered spectatorship of performance art, respectively. Emily’s films have been screened in Athens, Chiang Mai, Lisbon, Los Angeles, New York, Paris and Yangon. She is the co-host and producer of the radio show and podcast Bad Feminists Making Films.
A proud immigrant, Emily is a Steering Committee member of the Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition, where she serves as a legal advocate for undocumented immigrants navigating the detention, bond, and asylum processes. She is the co-founder of Rhiza Collective, a women-led collective that uses storytelling, healing, organizing and research to support social transformation and environmental justice; and Ethnocine, a collective of visual anthropologists and filmmakers pushing the boundaries of documentary storytelling through decolonial and intersectional feminist practice.