Keynote 2

De-centering Thai Studies: A View from the Northwest Borderlands

Nancy Eberhardt, Ph.D. (Anthropology, Knox College)

Saturday, Nov. 14, 18:00 - 19:00 (US CST)
Sunday, Nov. 15, 07:00 - 08:00 Thailand

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In recent years, there has been an admirable effort by many scholars to create a more inclusive Thai studies, one that looks beyond Bangkok and the central plains to include the peoples and geography of other regions of the country, and even beyond -- including new research on Thailand’s transnational networks and studies of the global Thai diaspora. Despite this excellent work, one area that remains understudied is that of the northwest borderlands of Mae Hong Son province and parts of Chiang Mai province that are populated by Shan-speaking communities. Does this area and its inhabitants even belong in Thai studies, given that most Shan speakers live on the other side of the border in Myanmar? How does it stretch our understanding of Thailand to include them, and what do we stand to gain from the exercise?

In this talk, I will describe some of the research that has already been done in this part of the country that has -- or could -- make a significant contribution to Thai studies, despite what some might see as an awkward relationship between the two. This includes, most notably, research on Shan ethnic identity and on Shan religion and ritual practice, but also more recent work on migration and its social and economic consequences. I will also point to additional problems and issues where more research is needed and where perhaps a new generation of scholars might be persuaded to focus their attention. My aim throughout these examples is to show how including the northwest borderlands more prominently in Thai studies will productively complicate and ultimately enrich our understanding of Thailand, as well as help us better understand its regional context.


Kanjana Thepboriruk, Ph.D., (กัญจนา เทพบริรักษ์)
Chair, NIU Thai Studies Committee

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