Husband is elephant’s front legs, wife is elephant’s hind legs: An investigation into the ways in which culture can create vulnerabilities for stateless women, in Northern Thailand.
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Interpretations of non-native cultures can reify images of non-Western people, especially women, in need of salvation and sophistication by the West. This thesis works through the implications of investigating a non-native culture by investigating ways in which Thai culture can create vulnerabilities for stateless women in Thailand. The over-arching theoretical framework is set down initially, with a comprehensive appeal to both feminist and postcolonial issues. Discourses of difference emerge as the findings show the opinions of informants to be shaped differently depending on their backgrounds and experiences. Such differences are presented here without an attempt to unify or paper-over conflicting and contradictory voices. The evidential data comes both from Thai women who have experienced the issues concerned and from a large number of key informants surveyed by The Thailand Project being run under the auspices of The Statelessness Programme at Tilburg University Law School. Statelessness emerges as a key factor, alongside gender, in determining people’s quality of life. The first-hand witness material will challenge conventional Western generalisations and meta-narratives about women in Thailand being bound by an oppressive culture, about ‘bun khun’ and about the deleterious effect of modernisation. The study will ask if binaries such as ‘woman as victim of culture’ versus ‘woman as resistant to tradition’ need be so polarized, and will find that there is great value in webbing such discourses for the benefit of the subjects.