Busarin Lertchavalitsakul: Contested Lands and Medical Services – ‘Border Bureaucracy’ and ‘Ambiguous Infrastructures’ in the Myanmar-Thailand Borderlands
A formal border checkpoint is a recent infrastructure established by Thailand in 2015, in one of formerly ethnic conflicted Southern Shan State bordering the northwestern province of Mae Hong Son. The checkpoint is aimed to more officially manage cross-border flows, yet ambiguity in controlling the border is everyday affecting the livelihoods of ethnic groups of Wa, Shan, and Pa-o living on the edge of two states. These people always imagine and utilize the fluid frontiers militarized by the United Wa State Army and the Myanmar military, while negotiating with the Thai state’s bureaucracy. With the political transition in Myanmar toward the improvement of basic infrastructure in peripheries in concurrence with the regional integration promoted by the Thai state, residents on both sides of the borders have adapted their lives towards constantly structural changes. While the Wa ethnic armed group is forced by the Myanmar military to remain in the battlefronts, troops and civilians desire to move into interior for a modern life. The recent situation encourages the residents on the Myanmar side to depend on resources and services from Thailand. However, the establishment of border checkpoint creates the ‘border bureaucracy’, from which crossers experience inconsistent immigration control border security. Another aspect, the access and the use of forestlands and natural products have become contested since the Thai military tries to limit people from benefitting those resources liberally. Employing an anthropological approach, I investigate the spatial control imposed through the operation of checkpoint seen as ‘ambiguous infrastructure’ influenced by the changes of political climate in peripheries, and Thailand’s border bureaucracy that have shaped cross-border mobility, the use and access to land, road, and services.
Busarin Lertchavalitsakul is a lecturer at the department of Sociology and Anthropology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Naresuan University, Thailand. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in the areas of development studies, borderland studies, migration and mobility, and food and culture. Her recent works extracted from her PhD dissertation on the Shan migrants’ cross-border mobility are published in peer-reviewed journals such as Journal of Burma Studies (2014), SOJOURN (2015), and in the collected volume The Informal Economy: Exploring Drivers and Practices (2017, Routledge).