Dr Sverre Molland1
1Australian National University
This paper deploys Lao and Myanmar labour migrants as a springboard for comparatively analysing Myanmar and Lao State governance. Based on ethnographic research in Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, notable differences exist in terms of how Myanmar and Lao migrants self-organize and engage in labour migrant activism in Thailand. Whereas Myanmar migrants tend to engage in ubiquitous migrant self-help groups (which at times resemble labour unions), Lao migrants tend to evade any such form of corporation. This paper suggests one must go beyond socio-cultural factors to consider political and institutional dimensions of Myanmar and Laos in order to account for these differences. Despite Myanmar and Laos’ shared legacy of authoritarian, socialist, one-party rule, they differ radically in how Myanmar’s military rule – as opposed to Laos’ party-structure – predispose young citizens to engage in modes of self-organising practices outside state structures. In turn, this has crucial implications for how labour migrants engage with informal self-organising practices and migrant activism in Thailand. As such, examining labour migrants in Thailand presents a fruitful vantage point to study Lao and Myanmar State governance in a comparative perspective.
Dr. Molland’s is an anthropologist whose research examines the intersections between migration, development and security in a comparative perspective, with specific focus on governance regimes and intervention modalities in mainland Southeast Asia. He has published widely on human trafficking and migration governance in the Mekong region.