The Implications of Aspirations
Reconsidering Resettlement in Laos
Author: Holly High
Numerous scholarly publications and unpublished development reports have debated the merits of “resettlement” in Laos: the movement of predominantly rural people closer to government services or to new lowland fields. Advocates have argued that settlers benefit from closer incorporation with the state and markets; critics have countered that resettlement actually exacerbates poverty. Using two case studies of resettlement villages in Laos this study illustrates significantly differing experiences, but notes that the experiences also coalesce on key points. Resettlement taps into deeply held aspirations for poverty reduction and modernity among Lao rural residents. Settler’s expectations were jarred, however, as they met with inadequate government services and lowered incomes. This tension between expectation and actualization cannot be encompassed simply in terms of the state’s domination of the people. Rather, settlers employed an experimental and aspiration-oriented mode of engaging with the project and, through it, the state. Settlers judged the lack of government services and charity to be the causes of the horrific conditions of resettlement villages, rather than resettlement itself. By highlighting the role of local aspirations, notions of modernity, and the experimental ethic, this examination of resettlement in Laos casts new light on how rural residents and officials achieve the “experimental consensus” on which these projects run.