Tracking and explaining patterns and trajectories of social and economic change in the global South is a key challenge for geographers: what is changing, how fast, in what direction, for whom, and why? Most geographical studies, often for practical reasons, involve single visits, from which change is projected backwards and, often, also extrapolated into the future. Identifying change on the basis of such studies is problematic on a number of counts, not least their reliance on respondents’ memories, patchy secondary data and researchers’ impressions.

Longitudinal studies where the research site is re-visited and re-surveyed are comparatively rare. Moreover, the large proportion are cross-sectional re-studies involving sampling across a population. Panel re-studies where the unit of analysis – here, individual households – is followed over time are rarer still.

Panel studies, though logistically challenging for several reasons, provide an alternative insight into processes of social and economic transformation. In particular, they permit us to track personal life histories; enable the linking of micro and macro processes of change; facilitate the teasing out of change between different social groups; and can help to explain why a rising tide does not lift all boats.

The case discussed here is based on a longitudinal study of two villages in the province of Mahasarakham in Northeast Thailand. The first survey of 81 households was undertaken in 1982/83; a second survey in 2008/09 covered 77 of the original 81 households.

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