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Border Landscapes

The Politics of Akha Land Use in China and Thailand

In this comparative, interdisciplinary study based on extensive fieldwork as well as historical sources, Janet Sturgeon examines the different trajectories of landscape change and land use among communities who call themselves Akha (known as Hani in China) in contrasting political contexts. She shows how, over the last century, processes of state formation, construction of ethnic identity, and regional security concerns have contributed to very different outcomes for Akha and their forests in China and Thailand, with Chinese Akha functioning as citizens and grain producers, and Akha in Thailand being viewed as "non-Thai" forest destroyers.

The modern nation-state grapples with local power hierarchies on the periphery of the nation, with varied outcomes. Citizenship in China helps Akha better protect a fluid set of livelihood practices that confer benefits on them and their landscape. Denied such citizenship in Thailand, Akha are helpless when forests and other resources are ruthlessly claimed by the state. Drawing on current anthropological debates on the state in Southeast Asia and more generally on debates on property theory, states and minorities, and political ecology, Sturgeon shows how people live in a continuous state of negotiated boundaries - political, social, and ecological.

This pioneering comparison of resource access and land use among historically related peoples in two nation-states will be welcomed by scholars of political ecology, environmental anthropology, ethnicity, and politics of state formation in East and Southeast Asia.

About the Author

Janet C. Sturgeon is assistant professor of geography at Simon Fraser University.


"The way that Sturgeon brings both social and ecological data to bear on her research situates the book squarely in the burgeoning field of political ecology. But Border Landscapes is an exemplar of how this approach can be productive in answering questions that go well beyond environmental politics."—Canadian Geographers

"This is a highly interesting and multi-layered study. . . . based on diligent fieldwork and careful review of relevant historical literature. It engages a range of social science theories in a vigorous dialog. Its multinational comparative approach effectively opens a new vista for our understanding of interethnic affairs in both human and natural milieus."—Agricultural History

"This book is a rich and thoughtful analysis..Moreover, it should be noted that the book is attractively produced, with photographs and diagrams inserted in appropriate locations throughout. It should be read as an example of how both political and landscape changes are occurring in the real world, and as a groundbreaking analysis of the implications of these changes for people living in border regions."—Progress in Development Studies

"This book exemplifies political ecology that far surpasses the 'chains of expectations' associated with progressive contextualization..an impressively balanced account of biophysical and socioeconomical variables and how they are intertwined..yet never loses its focus on the linkages between environmental change and human agency at local, regional, national, and international scales."—The Geographical Review

"This book should certainly be read by anyone who cares about natural resource management, ethnic minorities, and issues of territory and state power in China, Thailand, and Myanmar. . . Sturgeon's comparative research design and methods serve as a model for the potential of interdisciplinary research."—Annals of the Association of American Geographers

"Border Landscapes is without doubt an important and very timely work.. But the significance of Sturgeon's work extends far beyond this fascinating region, to areas of cultural, political, and biological complexity worldwide."—Human Ecology

"Sturgeon admirably demonstrates how local people live with the reality of continually negotiated political, social and ecological boundaries between China and Thailand. . . . A scholarly, interesting and timely treatment of an important issue, the ever-changing and local nature of political and environmental transformation of a minority culture not just in a single political setting, but on the boundaries of multi-state formation and resource control."—Pacific Affairs


"This innovative, carefully researched, and strikingly designed study will make an important contribution to comparative legal and institutional histories of resource management on the one hand and the analysis of sovereignty on the frontiers of nation—states on the other."—James C. Scott, Yale University

"Border Landscapes is a wonderful, richly observed study where comparison is used to illuminate some difficult issues about ethnicity, politics, and the environment."—Nicholas K. Menzies, author of Forest and Land Management in Imperial China

University of Washington Press
Culture, Place, and Nature

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