Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
This presentation will discuss care work among young Thai and Burmese migrant workers undertaking precarious labour in Thailand’s tourism industry. Burmese youth are crossing into Thailand through irregular channels against a backdrop of increased surveillance, criminalization and nationalist regimes of Othering (Bylander 2019; Johnson 2014). Many are taking up work in sites of tourism, and in recent years there has been an increase in the number Burmese fire dancers performing for tourists on the islands. Fire dance is not only dangerous, but it is highly stigmatized because of its association with migrant labour, tourist parties and sex tourism. Thai youth also migrate from rural areas to tourist centres and face forms of marginalization and precarity, particularly those who become fire dancers (Malam 2008). While there are long histories of conflict between Thai and Burmese people, and they are often forced to compete with each other for employment in tourist economies, this research examines how solidarities and communities of care are formed among Thai and Burmese young people on one island through acts of “sharing” (baeng pan). Practices of sharing are upheld as forms of resistance that include teaching each other dance techniques, and pooling resources through a particular “studio” which functions as a union to ensure that people can secure jobs and wages equally. Sharing, it is argued, is a form of intimate labour that forges communities of resistance in the midst of neoliberal labour regimes and forms of governmentality that seek to divide Thai and Burmese youth.