No Land’S Man: Sovereignty, Legal Status, And The Production Of Statelessness Among Highlanders In Northern Thailand

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Globally, over 10 million people lack the recognition and rights of citizenship. Statelessness among highland communities in Thailand comprises one of the longeststanding situations of protracted exclusion in the world, with disastrous effects on highlanders' lives and livelihoods. While statelessness is generally associated with acute deprivations, statelessness is neither new nor static in the hills of Thailand. Indeed, researchers and highlanders themselves have argued that highlanders maintained relative autonomy until the mid-20th century by living beyond the reach of lowland states-by being stateless. How, then, has statelessness come to be associated with lack? How is statelessness produced, and how are inequalities in life trajectories formed along the line of citizenship where they once did not exist? In this study, I examine the ways that the Thai state registers, (mis)understands, incorporates, and excludes highlanders, and the ways that highlanders (mis)understand, seek to access, and negotiate the state. Drawing on multi-scalar ethnography and extensive survey research, I show that statelessness persists among highlanders despite efforts by the government of Thailand to solve it. Second, I argue that statelessness is produced, not despite, but rather because of the ostensibly rational regime of evidentiary procedure in which status is adjudicated. Specifically, I show that the Thai state produces and privileges contingent, incomplete, and flawed evidence as the standard against which individuals must prove their claims to belong. And finally, I argue that state restrictions on movement among non-citizens are contributing directly and indirectly to inequalities in educational attainment and to the impoverishment of highland livelihoods. Theoretically, findings from this dissertation suggest that citizenship and statelessness are both unstable, yet ultimately transformable status categories that refract historically specific practices of sovereign power and claims to rule upon which they are based. On a political level, findings suggest that efforts to improve human rights will fall short in situations where legal status remains unresolved. Additionally, findings also indicate that the global campaign to resolve statelessness must recognize and monitor state efforts to manage, and ultimately restrict, access to citizenship through identification regimes that are often promoted for the ostensible protection of legal identity.

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Statelessness; Sovereignty; Development


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Union Local


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Williams,Linda Brooks

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Eloundou-Enyegue,Parfait M.

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Fiskesjo,N Magnus G
Feingold,David A.

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Development Sociology

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Ph. D., Development Sociology

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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