In this episode of the SSEAC Stories podcast, I speak with Natali Pearson from the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre at the University of Sydney about ‘Projectland: Life in a Lao Socialist Model Village’. I talk about my field site, a model village in Lao PDR, and discuss the meaning of model villages as central to socialist ideas of social transformation. The podcast explores a number of curious questions that underpinned my research, such as: If this is a model village, who is watching? Who is the audience?

The culture hall had been built with the idea that people would display their cultural artefacts — to who? … A lot of these artefacts and heirlooms were sold to fund people’s lives down here in the lowlands. They’d come from a remote mountainous place and they had beautiful handicrafts like indigo-died cloth that had been handwoven from cotton, basketry, and all these beautiful things….elites from the city came in and purchased them. I started to realise that tourism was a part of the fantasy what might happen, but I didn’t see many tourists actually arriving in the village. And the few that did arrive seemed terribly disappointed because they were coming to see cultural difference. But what was on display was conformity — conformity to a certain line about what acceptable aspirations for development are, under the party state in Laos…I realised if this was a display village, the display was for the state, in that sense, the higher levels.

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SSEAC Stories is a podcast series produced by the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre at the University of Sydney.