Transnational Relationships, Farang-Isan Couples, and Rural Transformation

  • Eric C. Thompson Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore
  • Pattana Kitiarsa former Associate Professor, Department of Southeast Asian Studies, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
  • Suriya Smutkupt independent scholar
Keywords: transnational relationship, rurual transformation, farang, isan


Farang (Western) men and their relationships with Isan (Northeast Thai) women simultaneously transform and sustain a number of aspects of rural Isan society. These include providing from economic stimulus to the rural economy, to reproducing matrilineal kinship relationships, and influencing patterns of sociability in rural Isan. This article draws on ongoing research in rural Thialand, including extensive interviews with farang-Isan couples and their relatives. It illustrates how matrilineal, matrifocal kinship in particular can incorporate in-marrying foreign men while sustaining traditional values and kinship patterns. The article considers in particular the effects of an influx of farang men on the traditional smallholder economy of the Isan region and the ways in which their presence not only transforms that economy and society but also supports its persistence. 


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