Accepted paper:

Laos's capitalist development since 1986: between territory and region


James Alan Brown (Queen Mary University of London)

Paper short abstract:

Lao PDR's market transition is marked by the state seeking legitimacy through growth and socialist ideology. Growth is enacted through changes in territory which link Laos to the Southeast Asia region, imply new relations between capital, state and population, and conversely challenge legitimacy.

Paper long abstract:

Lao People's Democratic Republic embarked on its course of market transition in 1986. An ongoing programme of liberal market reforms has been accompanied by the persisting dominance of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party. Nominally Marxist-Leninist in political outlook the party-state has sought to balance economic growth based on liberalisation and foreign investment and appeals to socialist construction and solidarity in order to maintain its own legitimacy. This balancing act has been played out through intensive transformations in state territory in the service of regional economic integration. Laos's landlocked position between larger, wealthier neighbouring economies - China, Thailand, Vietnam - has entailed a development strategy which seeks links through these countries to the global economy. This is enacted through a process of re-territorialising Lao space - through the establishment of special economic zones, plantation concessions, and other zoned development projects as well as population resettlement programmes - to accommodate foreign investment and regional linkages. This paper explores how the reterritorialization process reconfigures relations between Lao space, foreign capital, the state and subject populations in order to make an expanded Southeast Asian regional space, and to what extent this generates tensions between the state's legitimation tools of economic growth and socialist ideology.

panel L1
30 years after 1989: re-assessing models of market transition