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Title: Border regulars : an ethnographic enquiry into the becomings of the Thai-Lao border from the vantage point of small-scale trade
Author: Elsing, Sarah
ISNI:       0000 0004 6060 9707
Awarding Body: SOAS University of London
Current Institution: SOAS, University of London
Date of Award: 2016
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This thesis is an ethnographic enquiry into how the nation-state border between Thailand and Laos comes into being. Southeast Asian borders, and no less the Thai-Lao border, are known to be porous and their porosity is often associated with ineffective government policies and poor border control management. This thesis looks beyond such state-centric perspectives by highlighting the interstices between the legal and illegal, the formal and informal, and the state and society in the context of small-scale cross-border trade. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in the Thai province of Loei, it unravels the Thai-Lao border as historically contingent, multi-layered, and as constantly in flux. My findings reveal that the border is not only a prerogative of the state but that it is also produced through the practices of non-state actors as well as through the interactions of state and non-state actors. Female small-scale traders reproduce the border by engaging in diverse practices of arbitrage. They replicate the social hierarchy between Thailand and Laos through their terminology and bargaining practices. The border is also entrenched in the social memory and imaginaries of border residents including state actors. The social embeddedness of state actors in the local community and cross-border culture allows social relationships to form and convolute stringent categories of state and society. Combined with a flexibility of legality and local conceptualisations of licitness, such relationships facilitate the movement of people and goods while at the same time they increase the state's control over the border. They also give rise to cooperative forms of regulation that involve the giving of goods and money. Instead of construing these as corrupt practices that destabilise the border, they can also be understood to strengthen the state's authority and to reinforce the border. The thesis concludes by arguing that non-state perspectives are a sine qua non in an attempt to comprehend the nature of a border throughout space and time.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral