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Forest guardians, forest destroyers

the politics of environmental knowledge in northern Thailand

Tim Forsyth

Publication Year: 2012

In this far-reaching examination of environmental problems and politics in northern Thailand, Tim Forsyth and Andrew Walker analyze deforestation, water supply, soil erosion, use of agrochemicals, and biodiversity in order to challenge popularly held notions of environmental crisis. They argue that such crises have been used to support political objectives of state expansion and control in the uplands. They have also been used to justify the alternative directions advocated by an array of NGOs.

Published by: University of Washington Press

Series: Culture, Place, and Nature

Title page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ii-iv


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p. v-v

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pp. vii-viii

Anthropologists—and area specialists—never tire of pointing out the inadequacies of stereotypes through which public understandings of regional cultures or problems of social change in specific locations are formed. Such critiques may have started out as the assertion ...

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pp. ix-x

There are many people to thank in a project that has covered as much ground as this book. Research and writing in Thailand, Canberra, and London has benefited from many forms of assistance. Particular thanks are extended to Nicholas Farrelly for enthusiastic and relentless ...

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1. Environmental Crisis and the Crisis of Knowledge

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pp. 3-16

These days, many people assume that developing countries are undergoing some kind of environmental crisis. Thailand is no exception. James Fahn—who spent a decade writing for the environmental section of a Thai newspaper1—portrays this pessimism in his book, A Land on ...

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2. Mountains, Rivers, and Regulated Forests

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pp. 27-58

Mountains and valleys dominate the upper northern provinces of Thailand and this basic geography resonates in many aspects of the region’s social organization, economics, and culture. The earliest Thai settlements (or muang) were located in intermontane valleys at Chiang ...

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3. Upland People

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pp. 59-86

For years, people have been encouraged to see the uplands of Thailand as inhabited by “hill tribes”—the Akha, Hmong, Karen, Lahu, Lisu, and Mien—each with distinctive clothing, traditions, agricultural practices, and dance.1 The focus on hill tribes is fed by the literature issued ...

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4. Forests and Water

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pp. 87-116

In traditional thai worldviews the wild forest (pa) was perceived in largely negative terms as a place of danger, illegality, and cultural lack. The pa was a place physically and symbolically remote from the lowland settlements (muang). Of course, this imagery has not been erased, but ...

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5. Water Demand

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pp. 117-138

It is striking how little attention has been given to the water-demand implications of several decades of agricultural transformation in the uplands of northern Thailand. In a classic example of “problem closure” in environmental policy, researchers and government regulators ...

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6. Erosion

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pp. 139-169

Many of Thailand’s narratives about forests and water are intricately connected to beliefs about soil erosion. Visitors to the uplands are often struck by how farming seems to cling to steep slopes, and how villages perch precariously on narrow ridges. Popular notions of soil erosion ...

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7. Agrochemicals

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pp. 170-200

The specter of chemical contamination has played an important role in justifying regulatory intervention in the uplands. Agrochemical use is widely believed to bring considerable risks to ecosystems and to human health. Discussions of upland chemical use regularly feature familiar ...

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8. Biodiversity

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pp. 202-225

Biodiversity plays an important and growing role in the development and maintenance of Thailand’s selective narrative of environmental crisis. Much information about biodiversity in Thailand emphasizes the numbers and distinctiveness of species to be conserved. According ...

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9. Rethinking Environmental Knowledge

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pp. 226-246

This book has sought to illustrate how environmental politics in one location—one that is extremely well known and widely researched by different disciplines—has become dominated by environmental beliefs that are simplistic, misleading, and highly selective. Since ...


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pp. 247-255


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pp. 257-288


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pp. 289-302

E-ISBN-13: 9780295800257
E-ISBN-10: 0295800259
Print-ISBN-13: 9780295988221
Print-ISBN-10: 0295987928

Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Culture, Place, and Nature