Mediating Conflict, Making Meaning: Gender, Violence, and Order in the Thai-Burmese Borderlands

Authors: Adam Saltsman*, Worcester State University
Topics: Migration, Asia, Gender
Keywords: Displacement, gender, borders, refugees, migration, Thailand, Myanmar
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 42
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Throughout mainland Southeast Asia, state borders have emerged in the 21st century as post-conflict zones transformed into sites for the investment of capital and flexible labor. At the heart of what centers these peripheral spaces in the national and regional imaginaries is that they embody access to a reserve of low-wage migrant labor. In the Thai-Burmese borderlands, this population consists of a largely feminized and multi-ethnic workforce of Burmese who are in Thailand in search of refuge, security, and opportunity. Much scholarship has explored the various experiences of women and men who travel from Myanmar to Thailand and work as laborers in the borderlands, documenting forms of labor exploitation and patterns of migration. In this paper, I explore how, in spaces of displacement and those of mutated governance regimes—such as borders and economic zones—analyzing discourse and lived experience among forced migrants can reveal a lot about how gender is both produced and is also intimately linked to the production of border positionalities. Relying on ethnographic and qualitative fieldwork from 2014, 2017, and 2019, I tease out the threads of gender-making in narratives from (a) international UN agencies and NGOs; (b) forced migrant-run community organizations; and (c) forced migrants who are living and working in labor camps along the border. In particular, I am interested in how strategies to resolve interpersonal violence of the border space has a communicative force for migrants that is linked to their performative production and reproduction of gendered meanings of displacement.

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