Development planning, politics, and paradox: A study of Khon Kaen, a regional city in Northeast Thailand

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


John A. Agnew


Urbanization, Thailand, Fourth National Plan (1977-1981)

Subject Categories



The Thai government has promoted regional urban growth centers since the Fourth National Plan (1977-1981). Its aims are to reduce vast regional disparities, Bangkok's primacy, and heavy migration into the metropolis, particularly from the poorest region, the Northeast. This dissertation assesses development in Khon Kaen in the Northeast, which was the first provincial town to become a regional growth center. In addition to field research and interviews, I analyze statistical data and draw on reports and previous research. I argue the following:

The distribution of capital in Khon Kaen province by the late 1980s was clearly urban-oriented. Commercial banks were the main capital suppliers for commercial and service sectors which prospered, whereas government-related financial institutions favored large-scale and export industries, which were not as viable as spontaneous small-scale manufacturing targeting regional markets. Khon Kaen's inability to provide adequate employment for off-farm laborers made it incapable of substantially mitigating migration to Bangkok. This urban growth center has paradoxically facilitated out-migration from the Northeast and accommodated urbanites from other provincial towns and Bangkok. Consequently, the economic and migratory goals of regional growth centers were not achieved, and the aims of income distribution and reduced regional imbalance have not been met. However, the growth of economic and commercial sectors in Khon Kaen has brought about the expansion of the provincial and regional entrepreneurial segment, whose increasing political activities have been discernible in general elections in the 1980s.

Despite the fact that the regional city did not meet the anticipated goals, spatial development has unexpectedly brought about a geographical distribution of political power in Thailand. Historically, Bangkok "regionalized" the Northeast around the turn of the century by copying Western colonial administration in neighboring colonies, and by standardizing provincial administration throughout Siam proper. In this regard, the Northeast has significantly changed its position vis a vis Bangkok, from being subdued at the turn of the century to becoming a very critical arena for national political competition under today's parliamentary regime.


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