Degree Type

Honors Capstone Project

Date of Submission

Spring 5-1-2011

Capstone Advisor

Professor A.H. Peter Castro

Honors Reader

Professor John Western

Capstone Major


Capstone College

Arts and Science

Audio/Visual Component


Capstone Prize Winner


Won Capstone Funding


Honors Categories

Social Sciences

Subject Categories

Anthropology | Other Anthropology | Social and Cultural Anthropology


This paper details the lives of eight Karen-Burmese migrants living in Mae Sot, Thailand, a city on the Thai-Burma border and one of the main legal crossing points between the two countries. The study demonstrates the important relationship between structural violence and everyday resistance. It documents how individuals in a legally liminal state can increase their security and it describes just how these linkages occur – that migrants utilize their liminality and “in-between” status and attempt to increase their security to avoid oppression and harassment in daily life. By linking these concepts – resistance and liminality posed against structural violence – the study suggests a lens through which researchers may examine the marginalized who lack official status and are therefore denied basic human rights.

Over one million Burmese migrants have fled to Thailand to seek safety from poverty or oppression in their native Burma. Life in Thailand offers a better salary and safety, but migrants who chose to live outside formal refugee camps are considered illegal by Thai authorities. Because they are illegal, they lack rights and are arrested, shaken down for bribes, deported, or exploited. Meanwhile, they resist these with methods of their own: obtaining fraudulent identification cards, changing their dress or behavior, and relying on social networks for support. Ultimately, migrants create space and accommodation for themselves.

In order to understand the interplay between structural violence and everyday resistance within migrants’ lives, seven weeks of fieldwork were completed in Thailand in June and July 2010. Research consisted of both participant-observation and interviews with individuals throughout the city. Each individual was interviewed multiple times in order to gain a deeper understanding of their reasons for leaving Burma and a detailed view of their lives in Thailand. This study is based on the information gathered during those interviews.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.



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