More than Rural: Textures of Thailand’s Agrarian Transformation

Hardback: $68.00
ISBN-13: 9780824876593
Published: February 2019
Paperback: $30.00
ISBN-13: 9780824892371
Published: August 2022

Additional Information

324 pages | 14 b&w illustrations, 1 map
  • About the Book
  • In the 1970s, Thailand was developing but poor and largely agrarian. By the 1980s it had become the fastest growing large economy in the world and, in the process, made the transformation from a low-income to a middle-income economy. Fast forward to 2010 and Thailand had climbed yet another rung in the development ladder to become, according to World Bank criteria, an upper middle-income economy. Throughout this period of economic and social transformation, contrary to historical experience and theoretical models, one thing has remained constant: the central role of Thai smallholder farming. This conundrum—the persistence of the smallholder in a time of extraordinary change—lies at the heart of this book.

    In More than Rural author Jonathan Rigg explores how people in the countryside have adapted to their changing world, the new opportunities available, and the consequences for rural life and living. The Thai government has successfully “developed” the countryside, but with unexpected results. New household forms have emerged, women have become mobile in a manner few expected, and relations between rural and urban have changed. Yet the smallholder has persisted, and Rigg’s attempts to understand why offer a fresh perspective on Thailand’s development. Setting aside the urban, industrial point of view that we so often privilege, Rigg asks different questions about Thailand’s development. What if, he wonders, the present changes are not simply way stations, transitions to the main act of urbanization? What if they represent a new form of rural livelihood?

    Rigg’s thoughtful, nuanced approach to agrarian change—viewing the countryside as more than agriculture, the rural as more than the countryside, and rural people as more than farmers—offers insights into Thailand’s wider transformations (class identities, intergenerational relations), its political impasse, and more. Based on over three-and-a-half decades of fieldwork in seventeen villages, across three regions, and encompassing more than one thousand households, and a deep knowledge of primary and published sources, More than Rural is a significant work with implications for contemporary development across Asia and the global South.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Jonathan Rigg, Author

      Jonathan Rigg is professor of human geography in the School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • Jonathan Rigg brings the full strength of his three-and-a-half decades of research and publication on rural Thailand to reflect on meanings and conundrums surrounding the Thai countryside and on rurality more widely in Southeast Asia and the Global South. This book tells us much about the rural as constructed within Thailand’s modern, urbanized, hybrid, politicized present-day context, as well as giving us an expert account of people’s experience of life away from the city.
      —Philip Hirsch, The University of Sydney
    • Rigg’s study is significant not only for what it says about “rural” Thailand, but also for its implications for understanding the “rural” more generally in Asia. A strength of the work is Rigg’s attention to fieldwork and other primary sources. Particularly impressive is the historical perspective, beginning with Siam/Thailand’s first efforts to “modernize” in the 1890s and the transformations through Thailand’s “development era.”
      —Charles F. Keyes, University of Washington
    • Particular strengths of this book are the historical perspective that starts with the first efforts of Siam/Thailand to modernise agriculture in the 1890s, and a solid grounding in primary fieldwork. . . . [T]his is a fascinating book, which I read with great pleasure and rich gain after my most recent journey through rural Thailand in February 2020. It answered so many questions that arose during the trip, and I found the complexity and dynamics of agricultural transformation in Thailand – as unravelled and re-condensed by Jonathan Rigg – a healthy antidote to the simpler narratives that I had read before. . . . More than Rural is an example not only of geographical research, but also of science writing at its best.
      —Dietrich Schmidt-Vogt, International Quarterly for Asian Studies, 51:3-4 (2020)
    • Throughout the book, Rigg emphasises the proposition that agrarian transition and rural transformation in Thailand cannot be comprehended merely on the basis of changes in basic metrics of economic development, such as productivity, incomes, standards of living, poverty, technology, and trade. The multi-dimensional transformations that occurred are revealed as Rigg examines how the rural – labour, households, families, villages, and society – negotiated modern economic development and emerged in a form and character transcending its former rural quality and essence.
      —Sriram Natrajan, Review of Agrarian Studies, 11:1 (2021)
    • This is a sophisticated and nuanced account of contemporary rural Thailand, elegantly combining scholarly viewpoints and the voices of rural people themselves. The book’s chapters are theoretically and empirically rich explorations of the qualities and characters—the textures—of rural livelihoods. More than Rural is first-class scholarship. . . . Rigg has done a superb job on the varied textures of transformation.
      —Andrew Walker, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 54:1 (2023)
  • Supporting Resources