Childhoods of Anticipation: Schooling for "Alien Children" and the Imagination of a Thai National Future
Moodjalin Sudcharoen

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of Chicago

Primary Discipline

In this dissertation, I explore the political significance of the schooling of "alien children" (dek tangdao), a legal and popular term referring to the children of migrant workers from Burma, in rongrian wat, or (state-run) "temple schools" in Samutsakhon province, Thailand. There have been signs that the Thai state is grudgingly grappling with the permanent presence of migrants and seeks to shape the possible long-term settlement of the children. This includes recent state efforts to open a pathway to citizenship via education, which resulted in the 2017 legislation, allowing citizenship based on the children's participation in Thai schooling possible for the first time. While this state effort appears to create a hospitable environment for undocumented migrants, it reveals tensions and paradoxes which need to be critically examined. My research will illuminate how the figuration of the "alien child" (dek tangdao) indexes the unstable meanings and paradoxical types of personhood that are constantly negotiated in schooling practice. I will also discuss how such figures mediated by different imaginations and temporalities, which point to an ambivalent stance towards the social position of migrant children, and the kind of futures they will bring to the Thai nation. Finally, my research will explore the intersection between education, citizenship, and nation by analyzing how the inclusion of "alien children" through educational qualifications challenges the notion of "nation as family," which is the basis of Thai citizenship and identity, and how the Thai imagined community takes new shape when confronting transnationality.
About Moodjalin Sudcharoen
Moodjalin Sudcharoen is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago. Her research revolves around various topics of anthropological study including: childhood, migration, the politics of language learning, schooling, bureaucracy, and semiotics of personhood. Through her 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork, she investigates the politics of migrant schooling in Samutsakhon, an industrialized province in the central region of Thailand where a large number of migrants from Burma reside. Her study examines the relation of formal education to mobility through an analysis of institutional interventions into migrant childhood. The research focuses particularly on the social identifications of the migrant children in the schooling context as well as the links between the anticipated future of the nation and the various predictions of the (schooled and unschooled) migrant children's futures. With a focus on the deployment of linguistic and semiotic resources in everyday life, her study explores the tension between the status of mobile populations and state-controlled schooling, as well as subtle oppression and everyday resistance. Moodjalin earned a B.A. in Humanities from Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, and an M.A. in Asian Studies (Southeast Asia Program) at Cornell University.

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