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From Rural to Urban: A Geography of Boundary Crossing in Southeast Asia

  • Jonathan Rigg

Migration, mobility, and movement are the inter-linked processes which provide the empirical scaffold for this paper. The paper uses this empirical framing to reflect on a series of methodological, conceptual, and theoretical challenges for scholars of Southeast Asia. Mobility and associated geographical (spatial) boundary crossings have raised questions about the analytical units employed in research; the unsettling of these analytical units has challenged whether conceptual categories still have explanatory purchase; and the fracturing of conceptual categories has implications for the theoretical frameworks that scholars have traditionally deployed. Drawing on field research undertaken in Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam the paper argues that evolving mobilities in the region, particularly in rural areas, require a degree of explanatory ‘catch-up’ on the part of scholars as we try to keep pace with the rate of change in the countryside. Instead of focusing on households in space, we should be trying to map out the networked relations that link lives and individuals across national and transnational space. The paper further argues that we should focus our attention on local-level dynamics associated with societal change, settlement dynamism and sustainability, population turbulence, and evolving cultural preferences which operate partly independently of the rural development project, thus highlighting the shifting web of mutual dependencies and interdependencies that shape lives and living patterns.

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TRaNS: Trans-Regional and -National Studies of Southeast Asia
  • ISSN: 2051-364X
  • EISSN: 2051-3658
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