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‘It is better to assist the mother than to be employed’ – Political-economic inequality, socio-cultural values and children’s work in northern Thailand. Pia M Vogler Department of International Development Queen Elizabeth House DSA Conference 2010 5 November 2010. Outline of presentation.

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Pia M Vogler Department of International Development Queen Elizabeth House DSA Conference 2010


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  1. ‘It is better to assist the mother than to be employed’ – Political-economic inequality, socio-cultural values and children’s work in northern Thailand Pia M Vogler Department of International Development Queen Elizabeth House DSA Conference 2010 5 November 2010

  2. Outline of presentation • Introduction • Sample and research methods • Political economic research context • Children’s economic activities • Gender and generation • Socio-economic status • Paid work and cash crop production • Social morality, values and children’s work • Children’s economic activities and socio-cultural work ethics • Being (not so) good: Diligence and laziness • Life course aspirations reflecting values • Aspirations and household interdependencies • Aspirations and political-economic structures • Conclusions

  3. Sample and research methods • 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork, largely village based • Sample: • 24 boys and 21 girls of between 11 to 17 years, 46 household members, teachers, and fellow villagers • Research methods: • Participant observation (nine months) • Ethnographic interviews with children and adults • Participatory research exercises with children of different ages and gender • Mobility map • Seasonal calendars • Life course lines • Individual worksheet exercises

  4. Political economic research context • Huay Tong village, Mae Wang district, Chiang Mai Province, northern Thailand • Subsistence economy, wet rice farming • Since 1976 cash crop production • Increasing economic diversification since introduction of commercialized agriculture • Interdependencies between households, village communities and national Thai labour market

  5. Huay Tong village

  6. Cash crop production at Royal Agricultural Project

  7. Economic interdependencies with Thai labour market

  8. Children’s work: gendered and generational patterns • Children’s tasks are interdependent with subsistence household economy • From early years onwards they contribute through unpaid chores to the economics of household subsistence economy Detail of life course drawn by Chaa (13.06.08) Learning to plough from a senior peer

  9. Gender and generation • Household responsibilities increase with the onset of teenage years • Girls have more responsibilities than boys, work more Detail of life course drawn by 14 years old girls (13.06.08) Learning to weave from a neighbour woman

  10. Children’s work: socio-economic status • Household tasks differ according to socio-economic status • Social status decides about children’s participation to different forms of paid work: Royal Project, food stalls, doll manufacture • Wealthier Karen households can afford not to have their children earn money, but rather assist in household economy Animal care taking at the Royal Project Working at the seedling nursery

  11. Social morality, values, and children’s work • Thai and Karen adults value and encourage children’s work assistance • Through work assistance, children contribute to wider working processes in households and community economies, at the Thai school, and also the national labour market • Not only in the rural Karen village, but also in urban Thai places I observed children assisting others • Children value their work provided it is ‘not hard’, ‘comfortable’ and ‘honest’ • ‘Diligent’ and thus ‘good children’ earn benevolence from seniors, who may also help further with life course aspirations (to study high or access jobs).

  12. Children’s work assistance and socio-cultural work ethics Assisting with carpentry work at school Tidying up of the school library

  13. Being (not so) good: diligence and laziness • Children are aware that they need to be helpful and contribute • In helping they show diligence at home and in school • Being diligent equals being ‘good’, being lazy equals being ‘not so good’ • However, diligent and lazy are flexible notions

  14. Aspirations and household interdependencies • Realistic about economic interdependence with households • Political and emotional attachment to space, ‘home’, ‘belonging’ Detail of life course drawn by Chaa (13.06.08)

  15. Aspirations and political-economic structures • aware of restricted occupational aspirations in insecure labour market • Socio-economic infrastructure (commercialized agriculture) makes return of young people possible • Migration important – out of the village to acquire skills and return to the mountains Details of life course drawn by Somchai (13.06.08)

  16. Conclusions Economic diversification among children shapes their working activities As ‘work assistance’ children’s economic activities have economic, moral, and socio-cultural value Interdependencies between children’s economic activities and wider working and learning processes at local, regional, national levels Life course aspirations show Karen children are socio-cultural and politically conscious persons Karen children are aware of the cultural and structural marginality within wider Thai society Children reproduce and re-appropriate dominant culture participate actively in moulding local versions of political economy in northern Thailand