Meeting at the Alliance Franšaise, Chiang
Mai: “Life in Sansai Mahawong: Elders Reflect on Their Lives in the
Village and Young People Consider Options for the Future”.
12 February 2019.
A talk by
Kay and Mike Calavan.
This presentation is based on “semi-structured” interviews with 20
village residents older than 50 years and 20 younger than 30 years. Their individual experiences and
views provide rich insights into the dramatic social, economic, and cultural changes that have transformed
Thailand over the last several decades and continue in the present. Despite frequent academic observations on
growing socioeconomic inequality in Thailand, it is important to understand that residents of villages like
Sansai Mahawong are strikingly better off than they were 50 years ago. They are better fed, better dressed,
better housed, better educated, healthier, and longer-lived than they were when the Calavans first studied Sansai in
1969-70. Many insights are emerging from the interviews. A few interesting observations:
- Patterns of courtship and marriage have changed. Among elders it was
usual for young men to “aeo sao” [“visit the girls”] in a stylized manner. These days it is more common
for young people to meet through education or work.
- Investment strategies have changed. Within the past 20-30 years there
has probably been no more effective family investment strategy than financing post-secondary education for
Physical mobility [e.g. visits to Chiang Mai, travel to Bangkok and
beyond] and knowledge of the outside world [e.g. through TV and the
internet] have increased exponentially.
- The HIV/AIDS epidemic struck Sansai Mahawong a few decades back, but
doesn’t seem to pose a significant threat at present.
- A youth group/performing ensemble that was very important to young
people 40-50 years ago no longer exists, and in some ways the current generation seem more isolated from
their village peers..
and Mike Calavan no longer undertake paid work, but expect to observe
the world as
professional anthropologists until they die. Their Ph.D. research in
Sansai Mahawong was carried out in 1969-70. Mike studied small farmer decision-making and how Sansai farmers
adopted Green Revolution rice varieties. Kay observed governance and social organization and how some
features of the traditional system of aristocrats, commoners, and slaves persisted into the 1960s.
Subsequently, the Calavans switched professional roles. Kay earned a post-doctoral masters’ degree in agronomy, and
planned and evaluated agricultural
programs for USAID and other development groups. Mike focused much of
his career in USAID on planning and implementing programs to strengthen governance and democracy and in
the first 12 years of retirement planned, assessed, and initiated dozens of similar programs.
The Calavans initiated “50 years after” research in Sansai in 2016-17,
and presented that research [and an anthropological film from 1976] to the INTG in February, 2017. Their
presentation this year is based on 40 semi-structured interviews. Their plans for 2019-20 include a major
survey of all Sansai households that will provide rich quantitative data on social, economic, and cultural
trends. If they can muster the energy, they will seek to publish a small book or series of articles on Sansai, and are
exploring the possibility of producing a follow-up film with a friend..
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