Faculty Biography

Ken MacLean

Ken MacLean, Ph.D.

Professor: IDCE and Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies
Coordinator: Genocide and Human Rights Concentration

Department of International Development, Community, and Environment &
Core Faculty - Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies

Clark University
950 Main St
Worcester, MA 01610

Email: kmaclean@clarku.edu

Research Gate Homepage


Ph.D. Anthropology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (2005)
M.S. School of Natural Resources and Environment, U. Michigan-Ann Arbor (2004)
B.A. Anthropology, Princeton University (1990)

Research Interests

Topics: Political Violence, Critical Humanitarianism, Human Rights “Fact” Production and Archives, Legal Regimes, Digital Technologies, and Censorship

Region: Mainland Southeast Asia and the Greater South China Sea


Professor Ken MacLean holds a joint appointment with IDCE and the Strassler for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. He received a Ph.D. in Anthropology (University of Michigan 2005), a M.S. in Environment Justice (School of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of Michigan 2004), and a B.A. in Anthropology (Princeton University, 1990). Before coming to Clark University, he was a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Institute for Comparative and International Studies (Emory University, 2005-2007). Funding for his research has come from the Fulbright-Hays Program, The Wenner-Gren Foundation, and The Mellon Foundation, among other sources.

MacLean has more than twenty-five years of experience working with NGOs, including Fortify Rights as a Senior Advisor, on issues related to human rights violations, conflict-induced displacement, state-sponsored violence, extractive industries, and territorial disputes across Southeast Asia. 

Crimes in Archival Form book cover

His new book, Crimes in Archival Form: Human Rights, Fact Production, and Myanmar (Berkeley: University of California Press), explores the many ways in which human rights “facts” are produced rather than found. With Myanmar as his case study, MacLean examines the fact-finding practices of a human rights group, two cross-border humanitarian agencies, an international law clinic, and a global NGO-led campaign. Foregrounding fact-finding, in critical yet constructive ways, prompts long overdue conversations about the possibilities and limits of human rights documentation as a mode of truth-seeking. Such conversations are particularly urgent in an era when the perpetrators of large-scale human rights violations exploit misinformation, weaponize disinformation, and employ outright falsehoods, including deep fakes, to undermine the credibility of those who document abuses and demand that they be held accountable for them in the court of public opinion and in courts of law. To respond to such attacks, MacLean compels practitioners and scholars alike to be more transparent about how human rights “fact” production works, why it is important, and when its use should prompt concern.

Visiting Research Fellowships

F2021 Visiting Research Fellow, Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies (Mahidol University, Thailand – delayed due to Covid)

F2016 Visiting Research Fellow, Center for Southeast Asia Studies (University of Kyoto, Japan) 

Selected Publications

In Press

2022 “Genocidal Violence Against the Rohingya in Myanmar,” Centuries of Genocide, ed. Samuel Totten (Toronto: University of Toronto Press).

2022 Crimes in Archival Form: Human Rights, Fact Production, and Myanmar (Berkeley: University of California Press).

2022 Genocide by Attrition: The Role of Identity Documents in the Holocaust and the Genocides of Rwanda and Myanmar (Bangkok: Fortify Rights) [Lead researcher and writer]

2022 “Nowhere is Safe”: the Myanmar Military’s Crimes Against Humanity in the Wake of the Coup d’état (Bangkok: Fortify Rights) [Contributor]

2021 “Dangerous Speech Cloaked in Saffron Robes: Race, Religion, and Anti-Muslim Violence in Myanmar,” with Nickey Diamond, Handbook on Religion and Genocide, eds. Stephen Smith and Sara Brown (New York: Routledge), 205-216.

2020 “Historicizing the Archive: Rethinking the Mechanics of Mass Murder in Indonesia (1965-1966),” Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde (Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia) 176: 376-379.

2018 “The Rohingya Crisis and the Practices of Erasure,” Journal of Genocide Research 20(3).

2018 Famine Crimes: Military Operations, Forced Migration, and Chronic Hunger in Eastern Burma/Myanmar (2006-2008), IDCE Occasional Research Paper Series.

2018 “New Visibilities: Challenging Torture and Impunity in Vietnam,” in Human Rights Transformation in an Unequal World, Tine Destrooper and Sally Engle Merry, eds. (Philadelphia: Critical Studies in Human Rights Series University of Pennsylvania Press), 157-179.

2018 “Commentary: International Humanitarian Law and Corporate Accountability in a Conflict Zone,” Online Burma Library.

2017 “Danger Underfoot: Humanitarian Mine Action in Myanmar,” Center for Southeast Asian Studies Newsletter (Kyoto University), No. 75: 6-9.

2016 “Humanitarian Mine Action in Myanmar and the Mismanagement of Risk,” Focaal: Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology 74: 83-96.

2016 “History Reformatted: Vietnam’s Great Famine (1944-1945) in Archival Form,” Southeast Asian Studies. Vol. 5(2): 187-218.

2016 “Unbuilt Anxieties: Infrastructure Projects, Transnational Conflict in the South China/East Sea, and Vietnamese Statehood.” TRaNS: Trans-Regional and-National Studies of Southeast Asia, 1-21.

2014 “From Land to Water: Fixing Fluid Frontiers and the Limits of Sovereign Authority in the South China / Eastern Sea,” In Forging the Fiery Frontier: Two Millennia of China’s Encounters on the South and the Southwest, eds. John Whitmore and James Anderson (Leiden: Brill), 370-394.

2014 “Risk Management and the Business of Financial (Non-) Disclosure in Myanmar,” Spillover Edition Political and Legal Anthropology.

2014 “Counter-Accounting with Invisible Data: The Struggle for Transparency in Myanmar's Energy Sector,” Political and Legal Anthropology Review (PoLAR) 37(1): 10-28.

2013 The Government of Mistrust: Illegibility and Bureaucratic Power in Socialist Vietnam (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press).

2013 “A 'Biography-Not' General Tran Do: His Dissident Writings, Elite Politics, and Death in Retrospect,” The Journal of Vietnamese Studies 8(1): 34-79.

2013 “The Enterprising Cadre,” in Figures of Southeast Asian Modernity: Vietnam, ed. Erik Harms, Joshua Barker, and Johan Lindquist (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press).

2012 “Bodies in Perpetual Motion: Struggles over the Meaning, Value, and Purpose of Fuzzy Labor on the Eve of Collectivization,” in State, Society, and Market in Contemporary Vietnam: Property, Power, and Values, eds. Hue-Tam Ho Tai and Mark Selden (London: Routledge), 33-54.

2012 “Enacting Anti-Corruption: The Reconfiguration of Audit Regimes in Contemporary Vietnam,” positions: Asia critique 20(2): 595-625.

2012 “Lawfare and Impunity in Burma since the 2000 Ban on Forced Labor,” Asian Studies Review 36 (June): 189-206.

2010 “The Collected Works of the Communist Party: The Possibilities and Limits of Official Representations of Actually Existing Government,” Journal of Vietnamese Studies 5(2): 195-207 [Invited Contribution for a Special Forum edited by Tuong Vu].

2010 “Văn kiện Đảng Những khả năng và giới hạn trong thể hiện chính thức của một chính đảng đương quyền,” Talawas.

2010 “Khôi phục lại giá trị của ‘Thời bao cấp’ (1975-1986).” In Hiện đại và động thái của truyền thống ở Việt Nam: Những cách tiếp cận nhân học, tập II (T.P. Hồ Chí Minh: Đại học Quốc gia Hà Nội, Trường đại học khoa học xã hội và nhân văn, và Bảo tàng nhân học).

2010 “The Emergence of Private Indirect Government in Burma,” in Finding Dollars, Sense, and Legitimacy in Burma, ed. Susan Levenstein, pp. 40-53 (Washington D.C.: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars).

2008 “In Search of Kilometer Zero: Digital Archives, Technological Revisionism, and the Sino-Vietnamese Border,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 50(4): 862-894.

2008 “The Rehabilitation of an Uncomfortable Past: Remembering the Everyday in Vietnam during the Subsidy Period (1975-1986),” History and Anthropology 19(3): 281-303.

2008 “Sovereignty after the Entrepreneurial Turn: Mosaics of Control, Commodified Spaces, and Regulated Violence in Contemporary Burma,” in Taking Southeast Asia to Market: Commodities, Nature, and People in a Neoliberal Age, eds., Nancy Peluso and Joe Nevins (Ithaca: Cornell University Press), 140-157.

2007 “Manifest Socialism: The Labor of Representation in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (1956-1959),” Journal of Vietnamese Studies 2(1): 27-79.

2007 “Spaces of Extraction: Actually Existing Governance along the Riverine Networks of Nyaunglebin District,” in Myanmar: the State, Community and the Environment, ed. Monique Skidmore and Trevor Wilson (Canberra: Asia-Pacific Press, Australian National University), 246-267.

2004 “Reconfiguring the Debate on Engagement: Burma and the Changing Politics of Aid,” Critical Asian Studies 36(3): 323-54.

2004 “Policy Statement on the Joint ILO/SPDC Plan of Action to End Forced Labor in Burma,” (Washington D.C.: ERI)

2003 Capitalizing on Conflict: Logging and Mining in Burma’s Cease-Fire Zones. Washington D.C.: EarthRights International (ERI) and Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (with Mahn Nay Myo and Shwe Maung).

2003 Border Visions: Burmese Exiles on Humanitarian Assistance, Development Aid, and International Financial Institutions. Washington D.C.: ERI.

2002 Bridging the Gap between International and Local Understandings: Good Governance and Other Development Concepts. Hanoi: Helvetas Viet Nam.

2002 We Are Not Free To Work for Ourselves: Forced Labor and Other Human Rights Abuses in Burma (January 2002-May 2002)Washington D.C.: ERI (with Naing Htoo, Shwe Maung, Oum Kher, Mahn Nay Myo, Masao Imamura, and Tyler Gianinni).

2001 More of the Same: Forced Labor Continues in Burma (October 2000-September 2001). Washington D.C.: ERI (with Hsao Tai, Naing Htoo, Khin Nanda, and Oum Kher, and Tyler Gianinni).

2001 A Failure to Communicate: Socio-Cultural Obstacles to Translation and Their Impact on Program Implementation. Hanoi: Helvetas Viet Nam.

2000 “Constructing Civil Society: Assessing Participatory Development in Contemporary Vietnam.” In Globalization and the Asian Economic Crisis: Indigenous Responses, Coping Strategies and Governance Reform in Southeast Asia, ed. Geoffrey Hainsworth (Vancouver: University of British Columbia), 473-483.

Frequently Taught Courses

  • Visualizing Human Rights: Advocacy, Action, and the Politics of Representation
  • Transitional Justice: Theoretical Debates, Institutional Frameworks, and Development Impacts
  • Seeing Like a Humanitarian Agency 
  • Trafficking: Globalization and Its Il/licit Commodities 
  • The Political Economy of Food and the Ethics of Eating
  • Human Rights Strategy, Tactics, and Practice
  • Theory and Methods for Genocide and Human Rights Studies
  • Genres of Violence: Genocide and Mass Atrocities across Asia