Thesis: You take the good and leave the rest behind: Northern Thai adolescent girls and their narratives of future possibilities (2003)


This study seeks to articulate the forces influencing the lived experiences of adolescent girls in rural Northern Thailand. By focusing on how local notions of female identity, sexuality, family, education and the sex trade are negotiated by the younger generation on a daily basis I found that the future possibilities perceived by these girls are in constant dialogue with global flows of labor, images, and ideas into the village borders. These flows have reshaped the structure of, and relations within, families and have introduced to Northern Thailand more “modern” notions of being female often at odds with longstanding models of female identity. Global influences are reflected in the girls’ desire to buy their family international brand name goods, to travel abroad and live outside the confines of the “backwards” North, and to display other modern markers of high social status: Western style clothes, modern haircuts and perms, makeup, and foreign boyfriends. These desires, combined with newly acquired abilities and confidence, steer girls towards certain life choices and away from others. In addition, girls’ narratives of “responsibility” are in a perpetual state of negotiation with narratives of “freedom” which are largely defined by transnational influences. What comes from this negotiation is a search for lifestyles that can reconcile both narratives. Definitions of female “success” and “duty” are being re-cast to focus on financial obligations, both by family members and by the girls themselves. Thus girls are asking for–and receiving–more freedom ( issara ) geographically and socially, in exchange for providing their family with regular financial remittances and goods. While the girls are still constrained to a certain extent by traditional expectations of their geographic, social, and sexual limits, the girls are changing these limits to include their own desires for freedom.