Negotiating Development: An Ethnographic Study of Implemented and Latent Cultural Capital of the Christian Karen of Northern Thailand


  • Malcolm McDermond Messiah College



Drawing upon my five months living with a Karen ethnic-minority family in Northern Thailand between February and July of 2013, I explore the ways in which development is negotiated and can be negotiated by utilizing cultural capital and other resources within the village of Melaoop. In order to do this I engage the broader body of development discourse and paradigms. Using data collected through my ethnographic research, I first present the cultural capital and the implemented techniques through which the Christian Karen of Melaoop negotiate development: primarily selling cultural products to outsiders, protecting the natural resources, and working with outsider non-government organizations. I also highlight my observations about the unique Christian Karen expressions of institutions of communality, gender, and religion that have a latent capacity to impact how development is negotiated in the future. Throughout this paper there is a palpable tension between the insider/outsider perspective seen not only in the locus of development but also in the collection of ethnographic research itself. My research illustrations how various opinions and actions indicate the primacy of religion, cultural ethics and beliefs, gender roles, and economic incentives as culturally formed institutions that impact how development pressures are negotiated both individually and communally.