Remembering your Feet: Imaginings and Lifecourses in Northeast Thailand

  • Susan Upton

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis takes examples from villager’s experiences of change, how they perceive it and how they imagine their futures. The poor are often portrayed as passive recipients of change rather than agents of it and this thesis is a challenge to that. In-depth ethnography and life course analysis help us understand the meanings attached to people’s own experiences of change and illustrate that villagers are not merely ‘forgetting their feet’ (veuaa leum dteen- cows forget their feet, Thai proverb) in a teleological manner but are negotiating adverse structures to provide security and family wellbeing. An actor oriented approach is used as it highlights experiences of change and reactions to it whilst also taking into account the adverse political economy and imperfect institutional landscape. Changes that have been happening in one village in North-eastern Thailand are described and the failure of collective forms of resistance to provide adequate security is analysed. The rest of the thesis then goes on to look at change through individual and household strategies. Cohort analysis is used to explore differences in generations. An individual life course approach is then used to show how people strategise for their present and future wellbeing. Intergenerational analysis is also used to understand the bargaining between generations. Findings show the intergenerational contract is not only flexible but is also being re-worked to better fit the changes in society, not necessarily breaking down. Families are evolving and are finding new ways to keep bargains whilst also taking advantage of new identities and lifestyles. Findings show the active negotiation of the rural poor as agents of change; this change is dependent on place and the life course and sometimes entails large tradeoffs but seen in the wider context is supporting the reproduction and survival of families and rural values. I argue that perceived ideological similarities between families and the state that families should provide their own welfare without dependency is lessening pressure on the state to increase state welfare. However, there are differences between state ‘sufficiency economy’ versions of welfare and what poor families need. Pressure is building for better welfare, but it needs to be done in a way that facilitates and strengthens family provision.
Date of Award1 Aug 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorGeof Wood (Supervisor) & James McGregor (Supervisor)


  • migration
  • welfare regime
  • Thailand

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