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Cross-Border Traders in Northern Laos

Mastering Smallness

262 pages
Amsterdam University Press
Northern Laos has become a prominent spot in large-scale, top-down mappings and studies of neoliberal globalisation and infrastructural development linking Thailand and China, and markets further beyond. Yet in the common narrative, in which Laos appears as a weak victim helplessly exposed to its larger neighbours, attention is seldom paid to local voices. This book fills this gap. Building on long-term multi-sited fieldwork, it accompanies northern Lao cross-border traders closely in their transnational worlds of mobilities, social relations, economic experimentation and aspiration. Cross-Border Traders in Northern Laos: Mastering Smallness demonstrates that these traders’ indispensable but often invisible role in the everyday workings of the China-Laos-Thailand borderland economy relies on their rhetoric and practices of ‘smallness’—of framing their transnational trade activities in a self-deprecating manner and stressing their economic inferiority. Decoding their discursive surface of insignificance, this ethnography of ‘smallness’ foregrounds remarkable transnational social and economic skills that are mostly invisible in Sino-Southeast Asian borderland scholarship.
Author Bio
Simon Rowedder was a Research Fellow at the Department of Southeast Asian Studies, National University of Singapore (NUS), and member of the NUS-Max Weber Foundation Research Group on Borders, Mobilities and New Infrastructures. In December 2021, he became Assistant Professor of Development Politics at the University of Passau in Germany. Willem van Schendel, Professor of History, University of Amsterdam and International Institute of Social History, the Netherlands. He works with the history, anthropology and sociology of Asia. Recent works include A History of Bangladesh (2020), Embedding Agricultural Commodities (2017, ed.), The Camera as Witness (2015, with J. L. K. Pachuau). See uva.academia.edu/WillemVanSchendel.