Land, Livelihoods, and Remittances
A Political Ecology of Youth Out-Migration Across the Lao-Thai Mekong Border
Author: Keith Barney
This article seeks to draw connections between a political ecology of global investment in resource sector development and a culturally informed understanding of rural out-migration across the Lao–Thai border. The author highlights how the departures of rural youth for wage labor in Thailand and the remittances they return to sending villages are becoming important for understanding agrarian transformations in Laos today. In the first section the author introduces the contemporary context of cross-border migrations across the Lao–Thai Mekong border. The second section shifts focus to a village in Laos's central Khammouane Province, where extended field research was conducted between 2006 and 2009. In this village, youth out-migration to Thailand has become a widespread phenomenon, with nearly every household involved. The segmented cultural and gendered features of this migration and its salience for understanding contemporary transformations in this locale invite a broadening of agrarian studies analysis. The final section expands upon how political ecology can provide such a broader analysis by drawing attention to how extractive resource projects affect local tenure rights and livelihoods, with significant rents captured by the state and resource firms. By making these connections, the author argues there are coercive underpinnings to contemporary Mekong migrations, which may be linked to governance problems in the Lao resource sector.