Mekong border

Discussion of the formation of the modern borders of Laos often focus on the formal processes of treaty making and boundary demarcation. In this paper (Borders in Motion) I take a rather different approach. I focus on the localised processes of negotiation, dialogue, compromise and misunderstanding involved in the establishment and consolidation of the upper-Mekong border between Siam and Laos. The paper will appear soon in a collection on Nouvelles recherches sur le Laos to be issued by EFEO Press. The image above is a hand-drawn map of the Lao-Siamese border districts from the archival sources referred to in the paper. For those interested in a quick summary, here is the abstract of the paper.

In 1894 the French established “Commercial Agencies” in the upper-Mekong Siamese towns of Chiang Khong and Chiang Saen. In the following years the various French officials posted to these Agencies attempted to exert significant influence in the political, economic and social lives of these frontier districts. This paper explores the ways in which these interventions, and the Siamese responses, imbued the Mekong River border between Siam and French Indochina with new sets of meanings. While cartographic demarcation was relatively straight forward, the local establishment and consolidation of the borderline involved ongoing negotiation and dialogue. These local dealings generated forms of colonial administration and territorial discourse that were, in many cases, quite different to those promoted by the centres of colonial power. The paper shifts attention away from state-focussed processes of treaty making and border delineation and towards the local processes of negotiation through which new understandings of the border emerged. From this perspective, the formal demarcation and mapping of the border can be seen as the beginning of a process of dialogue rather than its endpoint.