Between theory and reality: the area specialist and the study of development
Thailand Khun Prasert - villager and owner-operator of a diamond-cutting workshop, northeast Thailand: Khun Prasert was until recently riding the rollercoaster of the 'diamond' (zirconium) and gemstone industry in northeast Thailand. He jumped on the thundering bandwagon in 1990, a few years after the industry's boom started. From absolutely nothing in 1985, the industry had risen like a phoenix from the ashes of a depressed regional economy, benefiting from and contributing to the dynamism of one of Bangkok's strong export-oriented industries, cosmetic jewellery, and creating a rare and powerful alternative to rural out-migration. For a time it represented a classic example of 'bottom-up development' (see Parnwell and Khamanarong 1990, 1996). Everybody wanted a slice of the action, either as workshop labourers or, if a bit of capital could be begged or borrowed, as budding 'diamond' entrepreneurs. The state was nowhere to be seen, and many people remarked that the industry was particularly successful because of this. Ten years later the industry collapsed: too many cooks had spoiled the broth, and taken the glisten out of this sparkling industry. Many people, like Khun Prasert, ended up no better off than when the industry had started - a binge of immediate gratification left no capital and thus no alternative to the industry other than a return to either farming or Bangkok. Workers were left to rue the costs of abysmally poor working conditions - seriously damaged eyesight, stumps where nimble fingers had once played - which were traded off against the useful short-term gains that this remarkable rural industry had once offered. As Khun Prasert said, ruefully, 'if only someone - the state, an NGO, a businessperson, someone - had regulated this industry's development so that
we might have had a sustainable alternative to farming and migration in the region'. '