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NAVIGATING THE ILLEGIBLE STATE: EVERYDAY EXPERIENCES OF STATELESSNESS AMONG SHAN YOUTH IN NORTHERN THAILAND

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posted on 08.12.2021, 15:32 by Janepicha Cheva-IsarakulJanepicha Cheva-Isarakul

Home to more than half-a-million stateless persons, Thailand provides a unique case study for understanding modern-day statelessness. Since 2005, the country has significantly expanded the rights of non-citizen children to allow access for basic education, civil registration, universal birth registration and healthcare, but still restricts physical mobility of stateless persons to the provincial level and has made the level of education a criterion for citizenship. These new regimes of governing statelessness both marginalise and include stateless people in the formal state systems.  This thesis examines the complex dynamics between exclusion and inclusion that stateless Shan youth in northern Thailand experience in their everyday lives. Based on 13-months of ethnographic fieldwork over the course of three years (2015-2018) conducted in the wake of UNHCR’s Global Campaign to End Statelessness, this thesis describes how childhood statelessness in the 21st century is interpreted, determined and governed by the Thai state, and how stateless Shan youth make sense of the label of statelessness, make decisions about their future, challenge the idea of national identity and negotiate their place within the society that simultaneously includes and excludes them. I explore how, despite the Thai state’s public commitment to resolve statelessness in the past few years, the path toward Thai citizenship for many stateless youth is still fraught with various legal obstacles that tie together remnants of the legal and social exclusion from the past with a complex politics of proof in the present. In this thesis, I use the framework of “state illegibility” to capture the Thai state’s past and present opaqueness, inscrutable, contradictory and unpredictable bureaucratic practices, and demonstrate the burdens placed on stateless youth to “read” the state and navigate its opacity in their everyday life. Having learned the roles of documents and aesthetics in mediating membership, I demonstrate how Shan youth negotiate the impact of statelessness through various strategies such as using their bodies to perform “Thainess” and assert belonging, acquiring false documents, emphasising their Shan identity to get scholarships, and secretly obtaining Myanmar citizenship as an alternative option. Through these ethnographic accounts, I not only explore the effects of new regimes of governing statelessness, but also the way such regimes are adopted, manipulated, and enacted by the stateless youth to produce liveable futures for themselves.

History

Copyright Date

01/01/2020

Date of Award

01/01/2020

Publisher

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Anthropology

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level

Doctoral

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 PURE BASIC RESEARCH

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis

Language

en_NZ

Alternative Language

other

Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Social and Cultural Studies

Advisors

Elinoff, Eli; Trundle, Catherine