Liangxiang Forum Lecture 4 | Livelihood and Life in Rural Thailand under Rapid Economic Growth: From the Perspective of Comparative Studies in Southeast Asia




In the context of rapid economic growth in Southeast Asia, the transformation of agriculture and rural society in the region has attracted the attention of the outside world. How does rural society cope with economic growth at the national and regional levels? What impact does the economic gap between urban and rural areas have on rural society? And what course will its agriculture and rural society follow?

Prof. Kono Yasuyuki, Professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies of Kyoto University and Member of the Academic Committee of Institute of International and Area Studies, Tsinghua University (IIAS-THU), was invited as the speaker in the 4th session of Liangxiang Forum, who conveyed a wonderful lecture entitled “Livelihood and Life in Rural Thailand under Rapid Economic Growth: From the Perspective of Comparative Studies in Southeast Asia” on the morning of November 19th, 2020.

Prof. Kono Yasuyuki started with the general situation in Southeast Asia by reviewing some hot topics in today’s rural studies in the region. Later, he illustrated the rural field work conducted by him and his research team of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies of Kyoto University in the rural village of Don Daeng located in northeastern Thailand in almost six decades, to specifically clarify how to carry out village studies as a methodology of area studies and explore the history and changes of agriculture and rural society in Don Daeng of Thailand.

Prof. Yasuyuki pointed out that different from the traditional sampling method used to study villages, his research team adopted the method of complete enumeration (“悉皆調査” in Japanese), that is, all individuals and land were surveyed to create a big picture of the area, which is one of the approaches often used in area studies. The first step was to produce and number local maps, then conduct household and land surveys, and finally establish and analyze local key data sets. By applying the above-mentioned methodology into practice, Prof. Yasuyuki came to a number of conclusions on the agricultural and social developments of the village. For example, rice cultivation survives and expands in spite of the rapid economic growth of Thailand due to minor technological advancements. Furthermore, although Thai farmers are able to acutely adapt to the changing economic and social environments, providing the rural population with basic conditions to ensure their resources, develop their skills and improve their capabilities is key to rural sustainability.

Finally, Prof. Yasuyuki shared his insights on area studies and village studies. He stated that the key problems in area studies stem from the real world instead of existing theories. “The methodologies of area studies are interdisciplinary, which can be named as ‘methodological eclecticism’”. Prof. Yasuyuki stressed that village studies can help us to better understand the people, society and nature in the countryside and make the invisible reality outside the scope of existing disciplines visible, but at the same time it also suffers from low efficiency, poor productivity and other concerns.

Prof. Kono Yasuyuki is Professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) of Kyoto University. From April 2014 to March 2018, he served as Director of CSEAS and has acted as Vice Chairman of the International Strategy Office of Kyoto University since April 2018. Prof. Yasuyuki received his PhD in Agriculture from the University of Tokyo in 1986 and joined CSEAS in 1987, expanding his research interest to natural resources management, rural livelihood and the interaction between human beings and nature in Southeast Asia. Recently, he and his interdisciplinary team explored the new topic of “sustainable humanosphere studies”, aiming at integrating nature and environment into the dialogue between science and society.

Text by: Qin Yi