Future-making and frictional mobility in the return of Burmese migrants


  • Prasert Rangkla Thammasat University




Burmese Migrants, Future-Making, Mobility, Myanmar, Return Migration


This article explores the experiences of recent returnees from Thailand to Southeast Myanmar and the complicated landscape of their future-making. In looking at the arduous journeys of Burmese migrants both in Myanmar and Thailand, I discuss how economic and political developments in reform-era Myanmar have informed Burmese migrants’ idea of return migration. Seeking a better life through coming home, they have encountered factors of friction and traction that either support or impede their plans. Accordingly, I argue that the return of these Burmese workers has become frictional mobility rather than a straightforward return. Ethnic politics and land boom in the region have intensified social inequality and conflicts that eventually make the organization of return more complex. The situation allows migrants to settle in their home country, postpone the return, and continue shuttling at the border while using the pattern of movement as a livelihood.

Author Biography

Prasert Rangkla, Thammasat University

Prasert Rangkla is an assistant professor at the Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology, Thammasat University, Thailand. He is interested in migration and displacement along the Thailand-Myanmar border. His current research focuses on the moral economy of a Burmese immigrant community in Thailand. 


Asian Development Bank. (2017). Asian Development Outlook (ADO) 2017: Transcending the middle-income challenge. Manila: Asian Development Bank.

Cassarino, J.-P. (2004). Theorising return migration: A revisited conceptual approach to return migrants. International Journal on Multicultural Societies, 6(2), 253-279.

Chia, J., Aung, Y. M., & Shawng, K. B. (2016). Myanmar’s nascent democracy depends on federalism. Kennedy School Review. Retrieved from http://ksr.hkspublications.org/2016/03/23/myanmars-nascentdemocracy-depends-on-federalism/

Cresswell, T. (2010). Towards a politics of mobility. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 28, 17-31.

Dalsgård, A. L. (2014). Standing apart: On time, affect and discernment in Nordeste, Brazil. In A. L. Dalsgård, M. D. Frederiksen, S. Højlund, & L. Meinert (Eds.), Ethnographies of youth and temporality: Time objectified (pp. 97-116). Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Flaherty, M. (2011). The textures of time: Agency and temporal experience. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Gashi, A., & Adnett, N. (2015). The determinants of return migration: Evidence for Kosovo. Croatian Economic Survey, 17(2), 57-81.

Gough, K. van, Langevang, T., & Namatovu, R. (2013). Researching entrepreneurship in low-income settlements: The strengths and challenges of participatory methods. Environment and Urbanization, 26(1), 297-311.

Gravers, M., & Ytzen, F. (2014). Burma/Myanmar: Where now Copenhagen: Nordic Institute of Asian Studies.

Hage, G. (2016). Questions concerning a future-politics. History and Anthropology, 27(4), 465-467.

Hannam, K., Sheller, M., & Urry, J. (2006). Mobilities, immobilities and mooring. Mobilities, 1(1), 1-22.

Hirvonen, K., & Lilleør, H. B. (2015). Going back home: Internal return migration in rural Tanzania. World Development, 70, 186-202.

Kirzner, I. M. (1997). Entrepreneurial discovery and the competitive market process: An Austrian approach. Journal of Economic Literature, 35(1), 60-85.

Kleist, N., & Jansen, S. (2016). Introduction: Hope over time – crisis, immobility and future-making. History and Anthropology, 27(4), 373-392.

Lall, M. (2016). Understanding reform in Myanmar: People and society in the wake of military rule. London: C. Hurst & Co.

Mya Mya Thet, & Pholphirul, P. (2016). The perception of Myanmar development on its return migrants: Implications for Burmese migrants in Thailand. International Migration & Integration, 17, 995-1014.

Smith, M. (1999). Burma: Insurgency and the politics of ethnicity. London: Zed Books.

South, A. (2008). Ethnic politics in Burma: States of conflict. New York: Routledge.




How to Cite

Rangkla, P. (2019). Future-making and frictional mobility in the return of Burmese migrants. Advances in Southeast Asian Studies, 12(1), 17–30. https://doi.org/10.14764/10.ASEAS-0011



Current Research on Southeast Asia