More than Culture, Gender, and Class
Erasing Shan Labor in the "Success" of Thailand's Royal Development Project
Author: Sai S.W. Latt
Class is back on the critical social research agenda in ways that are different from the class reductionism of "old" Marxism. Contemporary theorizations integrate culture, gender, and other axes of identity in interpreting socioeconomic processes. This article argues that the intersection of culture, gender, and class cannot adequately explain complex socioeconomic processes without sensitivity to migration or the legal status of individuals and bodily qualities conditioned by that legal status. This argument is made in the context of ethnic Shan migrants working in agricultural production in the Doi Soong (pseudonym) Royal Development Project site in northern Thailand. There, the "success" of the Project is fundamentally predicated on the simultaneous representation and erasure of Shan labor, whose exploitability is shaped not only by the dynamics of culture, gender, and class, but also by the migrants' historically contingent and lived experience as migrant (mobile) and precarious/undocumented (noncitizen) bodies.