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Dr Patrick Meehan

Patrick Meehan Profile Photo

Contact details

Email: Patrick dot Meehan at warwick dot ac dot uk

Tel.: +44(0) 2476 TBC
Room: R3.14 (Ramphal Building)

Assistant Professor

BA (Hons) Modern History (University of Oxford); MSc Development Studies (SOAS University of London); Ph.D. Development Studies (SOAS University of London); Fellow of the Higher Education Academy


I joined the Global Sustainable Development Department in July 2022. I also hold a position in the Department of Development Studies at SOAS University of London where I completed my Ph.D. and two post-doctoral research fellowships. I have also held teaching positions in Development Studies at both SOAS and Birkbeck University of London.

My research combines history, political economy, geography and anthropology to examine various global challenges, including armed conflict and political violence; resource politics and environmental crisis; illicit economies; rural poverty and agrarian change; and processes of uneven and exclusionary development.

My work focuses particularly on Myanmar and the borderland and frontier regions of Southeast Asia, where I have conducted extensive fieldwork for more than a decade and have established strong research and policy networks. My work is inspired by critical development theory and is rooted in a deep historical, cultural and empirical understanding of the regions where I work and is underpinned by close partnerships with research organisations and civil society organisations.

I have also worked with the UK Government, The Asia Foundation, and the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development on issues related to armed conflict, peacebuilding, environmental protection, and illicit economies.


Over the past decade, my research has focused on how illicit drug economies have become embedded in how states, markets and societies function. I have published widely on the drug trade in Myanmar, using this as a lens to develop broader theoretical and empirical insights into processes of state formation and capitalist development, and the violence that surround these processes.

My new research explores the dynamics of resource frontiers and the tensions and trade-offs facing efforts to address climate change. I am currently leading a research project that is analysing the social, environmental, and economic impacts of rare earth mining in the Myanmar-China borderlands, and working with local civil society organisations to explore ways to mitigate the harms caused by current mining practices. Myanmar is now one of the world’s largest sources of heavy rare earth elements, which are essential components in many clean energy technologies such as electric cars and wind turbines that are central to a net-zero transition. However, the extraction of these critical minerals is taking place in conflict-affected regions with very little regulation and is causing major environmental damage. My research is particularly interested in how responses to climate change are generating new drivers of uneven development in which some regions – like Myanmar’s borderlands – becoming ‘sacrifice zones for other countries to reach climate targets.

Research Projects

2022-2024: Local Impact of Rare Earths Elements Extraction in the Myanmar-China borderlands (Principal Investigator)

Myanmar has become the world’s largest source of rare earths. These metallic elements are essential components in many technologies, from mobile phones to electric cars, wind turbines and defence systems, and are central to a range of sectors involved in a technology-led environmental transition to carbon-zero. However, the extraction of these materials is taking place in conflict-affected areas of Myanmar with very little regulation. This project explores the local social, environmental, and economic impacts of rare earth extraction in northern Myanmar through a combination of in-depth interviews and life stories.

The research project has three key aims:

  1. To generate a new evidence base on how the rare earth mining sector operates in northern Myanmar and the impacts that it is having on local populations and environments.
  2. To engage with communities, civil society organisation and other local stakeholders so that research findings can inform responses to mining activities, especially efforts to mitigate the harms generated by current mining practices.
  3. To engage with policymakers and practitioners working in Myanmar about what is happening in rare earth mining areas of Kachin State to inform policy processes seeking to support responsible mining practices and to mitigate social and environmental harms in these areas.

2021-2022: United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD): DEEPEN: The Development-Environment-Peace Nexus in Borders and Borderlands

DEEPEN aimed to develop guidelines for policy makers and practitioners on how to

develop integrated responses to conflict, development and environmental issues in borderlands. The project produced a series of working papers. Findings and lessons from the case studies were synthesized to produce the Guidelines on the Integrated Approach to Development Projects in Borderlands.

2018-2022: Drugs and (dis)order: Building sustainable peacetime economies in the aftermath of war. (Co-Investigator) Global Challenges Research Fund: £7,231,221. ESRC Award Reference: ES/P011543/1

This programme carried out research into the role of illicit drug economies in conflict-affected borderlands of Afghanistan, Colombia and Myanmar. Led by SOAS University of London, the programme was the work of an international consortium of internationally recognised organisations with expertise in drugs, conflict, health and development: Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, Alcis, Christian Aid, Kachinland Research Centre, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Organization for Sustainable Development and Research, Oxford School of Global and Area Studies, University of Oxford, PositiveNegatives, Shan Herald Agency for News, Universidad de los Andes, and Universidad Nacional de Colombia. The project produced a large range of articles, reports and datasets which you can explore here

2017-2018: Building sustainable peacetime economies in the aftermath of war. (Principal Investigator) Global Challenges Research Fund Postdoctoral Fellowship: £125,000. ESRC Award Reference: ES/P009867/1 

This project utilised the evidence base and networks I had generated in my PhD research, which analysed the political economy of the opium/heroin trade in Myanmar's borderlands, to improve understanding of, and policy responses towards addressing instability, drug issues and peacebuilding in conflict and drug-affected environments. The project integrated political economy analysis of the role of drugs in processes of political bargaining during war to peace transitions, with a livelihoods approach focused on the relationship between drugs and coping strategies of rural communities.

2016-2018: Elite Bargains and Political Deals Project. HM Government Stabilisation Unit (with Professor Jonathan Goodhand (SOAS University of London) and Dr Christine Cheng (KCL)

This project sought to provide a more robust evidence base for the UK’s approach to stabilisation and help policy makers deliver more effective interventions in conflict contexts. The project commissioned 21 case studies, the findings from which were brought together in a major report: Synthesis Paper: Securing and Sustaining Elite Bargains that Reduce Violent Conflict. The findings of this project underpinned the 2018 “UK Government’s Approach to Stabilisation”, which sets out the current guidelines for the UK’s efforts to stabilize violent conflict across the world. A selection of case studies and the in-depth academic Synthesis Paper are available on the Stabilisation Unit website.



Journal articles

Meehan, P. (2022). “Ploughing the land five times”: Opium and agrarian change in the ceasefire landscapes of south-western Shan State, Myanmar. Journal of Agrarian Change, 22(2), 254– 277. Access here

Meehan, P., Sadan, M., Sai Aung Hla, Sai Kham Phu, Nang Muai Oo. (2022). Young people’s everyday pathways into drug harms in Shan State, Myanmar. Third World Quarterly. Access here

Meehan, P., & Seng Lawn Dan. (2022). Brokered Rule: Militias, Drugs, and Borderland Governance in the Myanmar-China Borderlands. Journal of Contemporary Asia. Access here

Meehan, P. (2021). Precarity, poverty and poppy: Encountering development in the uplands of Shan State, Myanmar. International Journal of Drug Policy, 103064. Access here or here

Goodhand, J., Meehan, P. Bhatia, J., Ghiabi, M., Gutierrez, F. (2021). Critical policy frontiers: the drugs-development-peacebuilding trilemma. International Journal of Drug Policy, 103115. Access here or here

Dan, S. L., Maran, J. H., Sadan, M., Meehan, P., Goodhand, J. (2021). The Pat Jasan Drug Eradication Social Movement in Northern Myanmar: Origins & Reactions. International Journal of Drug Policy. Access here or here

Meehan, P. (2015). Fortifying or fragmenting the state? The political economy of the drug trade in Shan State, Myanmar, 1988-2012. Critical Asian Studies, 47(2): 253–282. Access here or here

Meehan, P. (2011). Drugs, insurgency and statebuilding in Burma: Why the drugs trade is central to Burma’s changing political order. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 42(3):376-404. Access here

Special Issue

Drugs, Conflict and Development. International Journal of Drug Policy, Vol 89, March 2021. Edited by Jonathan Goodhand, Patrick Meehan, Jasmine Bhatia, Maziyar Ghiabi, Francisco Gutiérrez Sanín. Access here

Book chapters

Meehan, P. (2022). “Difficult Trade-Offs amidst Myanmar's 'Transition': Exploring Power and Politics in post-2010 Myanmar through the Lens of Development Studies.” In: Yamahata, C. & Anderson, B. Chosein Yamahata and Bobby Anderson (Eds). Demystifying Myanmar's transition and political crisis. Palgrave MacMillan. ISBN: 978-9811666742

Meehan, P., Sai Aung Hla, Sai Kham Phu. (2021). “Development zones in conflict-affected borderlands: The case of Muse, northern Shan State, Myanmar.” In: M. Chettri and M. Eilenberg (eds). Development Zones in Asian Borderlands. Amsterdam University Press. ISBN: 9789463726238

Lertchavalitsakul, M., Meehan, P. (2020). “Myanmar’s Contested Borderlands: Uneven Development and Ongoing Armed Conflict.” In: Simpson, A. & Farrelly, N. (eds.) Myanmar: Politics, Economy and Society. Routledge. ISBN 9780367110444

Meehan, P. (2016). “The continuation of war by other means: An anatomy of the Palaung ceasefire in northern Shan State.” In Sadan, M. (ed.), Ceasefire: Reflections on community, politics and social change in the Kachin region of Burma (Myanmar), 1994 to the present. Copenhagen: NIAS Press. ISBN: 978 87 7694 189

Meehan, P., Sadan, M. (2016). “Borderlands.” In Simpson, A., Farrelly, N. & Holliday, I. (Eds). Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Myanmar. London: Routledge. ISBN: 9780367580964

Meehan, P. (2015) “Drugs, local politics and the subversion of global counter-narcotics ideology in Burma’s eastern borderlands, 1988-2012.” In Charnoz, O. (ed.) Local Politics, Global Impacts: Steps to a Multi-Disciplinary Analysis of Scales. Farnham: Ashgate. ISBN 9781138384057

Reports and policy papers

Meehan, P. (2022). Integrated approaches to addressing drugs and development challenges in Myanmar’s borderlands. DEEPEN - The Development-Environment-Peace Nexus in Borders and Borderlands. United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD). Access here 

Drugs & Dis(order). (2022). Voices from the Borderlands 2022: Life stories from the drug- and conflict-affected borderlands of Afghanistan, Colombia and Myanmar. (Co-authored: Goodhand, J., Thomson, F., Meehan, P., & Ball, L.) Access here

Thomson, N. & Meehan, P. (2021). Understanding the drugs policy landscape in Myanmar: How drugs policies and programmes intersect with conflict, peace, health and development. Working Paper, GCRF Drugs and (Dis)order. London: SOAS. Access here

Drugs & Dis(order). (2020). Voices from the Borderlands 2020: Illicit drugs, development and peacebuilding. (Co-authored: Goodhand, J., Meehan, P., Thomson, F., Ghiabi, M. & Ball, L.) Access here 

Cheng, C., Goodhand, J., & Meehan, P. (2018). Synthesis Paper: Securing and Sustaining Elite Bargains that Reduce Violent Conflict. UK Government Stabilisation Unit. Access here

Meehan, P. (2018). What are the key factors that affect the securing and sustaining of an initial deal to reduce levels of armed conflict? UK Government Stabilisation Unit. Access here

Goodhand, J., Meehan, P. (2018). Spatialising Political Settlements. Conciliation Resources Accord Insight 4: Borderlands and peacebuilding. A view from the margins. Access here

Meehan, P. (2018). Peacebuilding amidst war in northern Myanmar. Conciliation Resources Accord Insight 4: Borderlands and peacebuilding. A view from the margins. Access here

Meehan, P. & Plonski. S. (2018). Brokering the margins: A review of concepts and methods. Working Paper No.1: Borderlands, Brokers and Peacebuilding in Sri Lanka and Nepal. SOAS University of London. Access here

Meehan, P. (2011). The WASH Sector in Myanmar: Addressing the Challenge of Building Sustainable WASH Services. Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Report: Education and Training. Access here


Blogs and podcasts

Meehan, P., Sai Aung Hla, Sai Kham Phu. (2023). Embedded Illegality: Drugs and Development in a Myanmar-China border city. Human Security Journal. Torino World Affairs Institute. Access here

Meehan, P. (2021). Myanmar: Why peace remains elusive. Friends of Le Monde Diplomatique. 90-minute podcast. Listen on Mixcloud

Goodhand, J. & Meehan, P. (2021) Drugs ‘trilemma’: how to halt the deadly trade while still ensuring development and peace. The Conversation, 11 May 2021. Access here

Meehan, P. (2017). 'Opium and 'Development' in Myanmar: The political economy of a resurgent crop.Torino World Affairs Institute, T.note, 5. Access here

Meehan, P. (2016). How the military benefits from Myanmar’s growing opium economy. East Asia Forum. Access here