It’s Not Just About Money: Transnational Marriages of Isan Women

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Patcharin Lapanun


Transnational marriages between Isan women and Western men are a striking social phenomenon in contemporary Thai society. This paper aims to explain these marriages; it discusses the problematic binary opposition of the notions of romantic love and material incentives, which views such marriages as based on either money or romantic love. Drawn on the results of my fieldwork in an Isan village, this paper presents the diverse and complex motivations that feed into ‘logics of desire’ propelling village women and Western men to engage in the current transnational marriages. The logics of desire, I argue, transcend both economic reasons and intimate relationships and are informed by local and Western norms and practices regarding gender, marriage, and family. In addition, fantasies about modernity, a gendered stereotyping of Thai (Asian) women associated with the role of home-making wives, and gender relations in Western societies influenced by feminist ideas also play a part in shaping marriage choices and decisions. Based on the findings, I maintain that the dichotomous view is a simplification and does not capture the multiplicity of factors shaping marriage decisions or the meanings of these conjugal relationships for the women and men concerned.


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Lapanun, P. (2013). It’s Not Just About Money: Transnational Marriages of Isan Women. Journal of Mekong Societies, 8(3), 1–28. Retrieved from