Economic Growth, Social Inequality, and Environmental Change in Thailand and Cambodia

National Science Foundation, Human and Social Dynamics Program Grant # BCS-0433787

PI: Alan L. Kolata, University of Chicago; Co-I: Michael W. Binford, University of Florida, Robert M. Townsend, University of Chicago. 


Project Summary from Proposal
1) Intellectual Merit: Globally, studies of developing economies show that social inequality and cross-household variability of income growth is larger than conventional economic factors can explain.  We hypothesize that environmental, social, cultural, and historical variation interact with economic factors and affect households, villages, and regions differentially, explaining inequality and a large amount of the residual variance in income growth.  To test this hypothesis, we will examine social, cultural, historical and environmental factors and construct models of the rural, peri-urban, and national economies in Thailand and Cambodia, particularly in the Lower Mekong River Basin.  We deploy the methods and insights of the spatial social sciences, especially spatial statistics, analysis of remotely sensed images, development of geographic information systems (GIS), and the testing and refinement of formal economic models based on new and existing empirical data sets.  We propose here to analyze the interacting social, economic, and ecological processes that have affected economic growth, the emergence or intensification of social inequality and the dynamics of land-use and environmental change.  The original contribution of our proposed research will be to integrate natural and social science analysis of distinct social, economic, and physical variables to answer the question of how and to what extent environmental and cultural variability affects economic behavior and decision making.  The work products of the study will be: (1) extensive empirical data sets and conceptual models that relate both physical (e.g., deforestation, water quality, land-use change) and social (e.g., migration patterns, income inequality, cultural practices) variables to economic growth; and (2) tests of predictions made by formal models.  The results of the proposed research have broad implications for understanding the whole Earth system, especially the ecological and socioeconomic bases of land-use, land-conversion, and resource sustainability in environments that are experiencing increasing economic activity, periodic social crises, and consequent environmental degradation.

2) Broader Impacts:
The project will contribute to the development of research and education capacity in Cambodia and Thailand, as well as among advanced Ph.D. students in several disciplines in the United States, and contribute to the development of economic, social, and environmental policy in developing countries. The data sets and models that we produce will be useful not only for fundamental understanding of the human-environment system, but also for planning and managing the kinds of land-cover conversion that may occur in the future, especially in the context of newly developed or developing countries like Thailand and Cambodia. Our data sets and models will be useful to government and non­governmental development agencies, landscape planners, and natural resource managers in developing countries. Our questionnaires, sampling design, protocols, codebooks, users notes, and related information necessary to field the new and existing Thai and Cambodian surveys will be placed online as will the socioeconomic, ethnographic, and climate data themselves when ready for public release. Women and ethnic minorities in the U.S. and abroad play key roles as research associates, scientific technicians, survey team leaders and staff, and data entry technicians, among other roles.  We are focused quite explicitly on training, education, and human capital development in rural areas.  We collaborate intensively with several Thai Universities (Thammasat, Chulalongkorn, Kaesetsart), both with faculty and students writing Master's theses or working on the project, and with government agencies and ministries (e.g., Bank of Thailand., Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives), contributing to capacity building in basic research and policy application. In Cambodia, we collaborate closely with several government ministries (Ministry of the Environment, Ministry of Planning) and the Center for Khmer Studies, an international NGO contributing to the reconstruction of the countryís academic infrastructure, educational training programs, and research capacities in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge destruction of civil society.

Link to pdf file of full proposal.
Link to poster presented at 2006 PI meeting of the HSD program
Link to presentation by Binford et al. to the 2005 Human Dimensions Open Meeting
Link to presentation by Binford et al. to the 2006 AAG meeting
Link to First Annual Report to the National Science Foundation

Images of Thailand (vast rice agriculture, industry), Cambodia (Angkor Wat, Otdar Meanchey rice agriculture, deforestation), and both: satellite imagery.

Thailand-Cambodia Border 1990 Thailand-Cambodia Border 2000
                                                            1990                                                                          2000
Border between Sisaket, Thailand and Otdar Meanchey, Cambodia



Cambodia senior research team in conference in Siem Reap making study village selections: (l-r): Alan Kolata, Michael Binford, Kee, Ayrine Uk

Graduate students Andrea Brown (l) and Lin Cassidy (r) collecting ground data for satellite remote sensing image analysis on Phnom Kulen, Cambodia.