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CSEAS Lecture Series. Displaced in Place: How Conservation-Induced Sedentarization Undermines Upland Livelihoods & Environments in Northern Thailand

Daniel B. Ahlquist, Assistant Professor, James Madison College, Michigan State University
Friday, April 2, 2021
12:00-1:00 PM
Free and open to the public. Please register at

Beginning in the 1980s, the Thai conservation state’s approach to managing upland Indigenous communities in forest areas shifted from forced evictions to sedentarization (fixing in place) through forest enclosures and logging bans. Viewed through the traditional displacement lens, which focuses on the removal of people from place, the fact that evictions remain rare suggests an end to the era of conservation-induced displacement in the northern uplands. However, a decade of ethnographic study of the long-term social and environmental effects of conservation-induced sedentarization in two Akha communities reveals a qualitative shift in – rather than an end to – the story of displacement in upland communities. Building on the small-but-growing literature on in situ displacement (Feldman et al. 2011; Geisler 2011; Feldman & Geisler 2012; Chung 2017), I argue that treating displacement as only the removal of people from place, and not also the removal of place from people, limits our ability to critically understand how upland people experience diminishing (re)productive capacity and accumulating insecurity in the wake of conservation and development interventions. Specifically, I show how state forest enclosures have ruptured local socio-ecological relations and undermined farmers’ mechanisms for sustaining the agro-ecological conditions of production (e.g. soil fertility, weed control). In doing so, they triggered a process of in situ displacement whereby upland farmers experience and contribute to the erosion of place as a sustaining foundation from under their feet. Because the symptoms of in situ displacement manifest slowly over time and in ways that are difficult to connect to the disruptions informing them, they are often overlooked in the displacement literature, misdiagnosed as evidence of mismanagement or lack of knowledge on the part of farmers, and used as justification for misguided policy and development interventions. In closing, I briefly examine two recent land rights developments and their potential to begin healing the socio-ecological rupture in upland communities.

Daniel B. Ahlquist is an Assistant Professor in Michigan State University’s James Madison College of Public Affairs. As a teacher and a scholar, he is motivated by an interest in human-environment relationships and the ways political and economic inequalities between social groups play out through uneven relationships to the environment. His current research projects explore the cross-cutting themes of state conservation and development agendas, agrarian change, displacement, and changing forms of inequality in Southeast Asia. He holds a Ph.D. in Development Sociology from Cornell University.

If there is anything we can do to make this event accessible to you, please contact us. Please be aware that advance notice is necessary as some accommodations may require more time for the university to arrange. Contact
Building: Off Campus Location
Location: Virtual
Event Link:
Event Type: Lecture / Discussion
Tags: Cseas Lecture Series, Discussion, Ecology, Lecture, Southeast Asia, thailand, Virtual
Source: Happening @ Michigan from Center for Southeast Asian Studies, International Institute, Asian Languages and Cultures

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