Global tourism and local ethnicity: Reconfiguring racial and ethnic relations in central Laos

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Based on ethnographic research in a multi-ethnic village in Laos, this article examines how global tourism reconfigured racial and ethnic relations between foreign tourists and locals, as well as among villagers of different ethnicities. While tourists of various nationalities were homogeneously racialized by the locals as farang (white foreigners) who are fundamentally different, they were generally in a dominant socioeconomic position. However, such global hierarchies could be upended when they became long-term stayers employed by local tourist businesses and were incorporated into the power structure. Likewise, ethnic hierarchies among local villagers that used to privilege majority youth on the job market were temporarily reconstituted as minority youth became more desirable employees in the tourism industry because of their superior English-language abilities acquired from an NGO-supported, informal class in the village. Nonetheless, recent changes in global tourism indicate that structural ethnic hierarchies persist and continue to subject ethnic minorities to employment uncertainty.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-20
Number of pages18
JournalCritique of Anthropology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2024


  • Ethnic minorities
  • Hmong
  • Khmu
  • Lao Loum
  • Laos
  • Southeast Asia
  • ethnic relations
  • global tourism
  • race
  • racialization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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