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Hardcover | $37.00 Short | £30.95 | 168 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 16 b&w illus. | April 2013 | ISBN: 9780262019071
eBook | $37.00 Short | April 2013 | ISBN: 9780262314145
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Chronicles from the Field

The Townsend Thai Project


Running since 1997 and continuing today, the Townsend Thai Project has tracked millions of observations about the economic activities of households and institutions in rural and urban Thailand. The project represents one of the most extensive datasets in the developing world. Chronicles from the Field offers an account of the design and implementation of this unique panel data survey. It tells the story not only of the origins and operations of the project but also of the challenges and rewards that come from a search to understand the process of a country’s economic development.

The book explains the technical details of data collection and survey instruments but emphasizes the human side of the project, describing the culture shock felt by city-dwelling survey enumerators in rural villages, the “surprising, eye-opening, and inspiring” responses to survey questions, and the never-ending resourcefulness of the survey team. The text is supplemented by an epilogue on research findings and policy recommendations and an appendix that contains a list and abstracts of published and working papers, organized by topic, using data from the project.

Social and economic policies are too often skewed by political considerations. The Townsend Thai Project offers another basis for policy: accurate measurement based on thoroughly collected data. From this, a clear template emerges for understanding poverty and alleviating it.

About the Authors

Robert M. Townsend is Elizabeth & James Killian Professor of Economics at MIT. In 2012 he was awarded the Frisch Medal by the Econometric Society for his research on the village economies of Thailand, becoming the only two-time winner of this prize.

Sombat Sakunthasathien is Director of the Thai Family Research Project. Rob Jordan is an award-winning journalist and writer.


“The book is an excellent reminder for all development economists that vigorous and persistent research entrepreneurship focused on economic data collection pays in terms of new knowledge gained and, with some luck, in terms of better economic policies too.”—Quarterly Journal of International Agriculture


“The fascinating tale of a rich, long-lasting experience in field work; the combination of vision, conceptual thinking, and human quality makes it enlightening for economists, anthropologists, and sociologists, and a must for whoever wants to embark in field surveys for development economics.”
Patrick Rey, Professor of Economics, Toulouse School of Economics
“I have rarely enjoyed or learned more from a book outside of my field. Chronicles from the Field is original, serious, discerning, careful, and innovative. The writing is crisp and clear, the illustrations and charts are informative, and the structure and flow make you want to read more. In short, this book is excellent.”
Justin McDaniel, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania
Chronicles from the Field is very interesting and will be valuable to researchers who are thinking about running such a project themselves. Graduate-level students in economics, sociology, geography, and political science will benefit from reading this book.”
Amrita Daniere, Vice Dean, Graduate, Department of Geography and Planning, University of Toronto, Mississauga