Thailand’s Political Peasants
Power in the Modern Rural Economy
Publication Year: 2012
When a populist movement elected Thaksin Shinawatra as prime minister of Thailand in 2001, many of the country’s urban elite dismissed the outcome as just another symptom of rural corruption, a traditional patronage system dominated by local strongmen pressuring their neighbors through political bullying and vote-buying. In Thailand’s Political Peasants, however, Andrew Walker argues that the emergence of an entirely new socioeconomic dynamic has dramatically changed the relations of Thai peasants with the state, making them a political force to be reckoned with. Whereas their ancestors focused on subsistence, this generation of middle-income peasants seeks productive relationships with sources of state power, produces cash crops, and derives additional income through non-agricultural work. In the increasingly decentralized, disaggregated country, rural villagers and farmers have themselves become entrepreneurs and agents of the state at the local level, while the state has changed from an extractor of taxes to a supplier of subsidies and a patron of development projects.
Thailand’s Political Peasants provides an original, provocative analysis that encourages an ethnographic rethinking of rural politics in rapidly developing countries. Drawing on six years of fieldwork in Ban Tiam, a rural village in northern Thailand, Walker shows how analyses of peasant politics that focus primarily on rebellion, resistance, and evasion are becoming less useful for understanding emergent forms of political society.
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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List of Illustrations
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Several people have played a very important part in producing this book. I owe an enormous debt of thanks to my research assistant during much of the time that I worked in Ban Tiam, Rungnapa Kasemrat. Rung has spent much more time in Ban Tiam than I, and her patience, persistence, and ...
Introduction: Peasants, Power, and Political Society
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In recent years, Thai public life has been preoccupied with issues of power. In September 2006, the controversial government of billionaire businessman Thaksin Shinawatra was overthrown in a military coup. The tanks that rolled onto the streets of Bangkok had yellow ribbons tied around their gun ...
1. Thailand’s Persistent Peasantry
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For more than one hundred years there have been claims from many parts of the world that the peasantry is disappearing. Writing at the end of the nineteenth century, Vladimir Lenin famously argued that “commodity exchange and capitalist production” in rural Russia meant that the peasantry was ...
2. Ban Tiam’s Middle-Income Rural Economy
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Ban Tiam is located in a narrow valley about one hour’s drive from the city of Chiang Mai. The houses of the village are clustered around a long, straight road that runs south from the district center. It is the last village before the paved road fades into gravel and enters the densely forested Lanna National ...
3. Drawing Power into Private Realms
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On the morning of Monday, 14 April 2008, Aunt Kluay prepared an elaborate feast. It was the second day of the new-year celebration and Kluay wanted to honor the spirits that had overseen her newfound prosperity. Early in the morning she made the short journey to the district market and spent a thousand ...
4. Contracts, Private Capital, and the State
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My first research trip to Ban Tiam was in December 2002. I was planning to spend a couple of months looking at how the village managed water allocation for the dry-season cultivation of cash crops. However, when I arrived in the village in late December, it was clear that water allocation was not going to be ...
5. The Political Economy of Projects
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One morning in early June 2006, a group of three men set out from Ban Tiam along a forest trail to the east of the village. One of them was representing the village’s water supply committee. The other two were members of a newly formed watershed protection committee. The trail followed the course of a ...
6. Community, Legibility, and Eligibility
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In mid-2004, Aunt Fon decided it was time that Ban Tiam’s housewives’ group (klum mae ban) obtain uniforms for its members. Like the many other such groups that exist throughout Thailand, Ban Tiam’s klum mae ban is a vehicle for the expression of good housewifely values. Its members mobilize ...
7. The Rural Constitution
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So far in this book, my exploration of Ban Tiam’s political society has addressed “political” issues in broad terms. I have examined political society as being made up of specific contexts in which people cultivate connections with sources of power in the spiritual, commercial, and bureaucratic ...
Conclusion: Political Society, Civil Society, and Democracy
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The national-level conflict that has convulsed Thailand over the past decade owes much to the emergence of rural Thailand’s new political society. Rural people have mobilized to defend the direct relationship they have established with the Thai state over the past forty years. This is not the old-style Southeast ...
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Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2012
Series Title: New Perspectives in Se Asian Studies