restricted access 7. Ethnicity and the Politics of Location in Thailand
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84 Yos Santasombat 7 Ethnicity and the Politics of Location in Thailand Yos Santasombat The thesis that I will propose is a simple one. I will argue you that you cannot understand or explain development inThailand by simply looking at economic indicators and political activity but, rather, we need to look deeper into the changing nature of Thai society and how cultural politics are situationally constructed through the process of globalization and localization. I will illustrate my case by discussing the issue of ethnicity and how ethnicity has transformed the nature of conflict and struggle in Thai society. Let me begin with events that took place on the afternoon of 10 January 1999 when a family of Lua (a small highlander group in northern Thailand) were confronted by local Forestry Department officials. Two men were picked up and taken to a nearby police station. They were subsequently charged with trespassing, occupying and illegally practising agricultural cultivation within a national park. They were detained at the police station for eight days and were then released on bail after a large group of Lua threatened to stage a massive rally in front of the district office. This incident is by no means isolated, as powerful demands for resources, lands and mobility control have guided state expansion to the furthest corners of the land. The autonomy and mobility of marginal cultural groups from once inaccessible places in tropical forests and rugged 07 ThaiEcoRecovery Ch 7 5/5/06, 10:02 AM 84 Reproduced from Thailand's Economic Recovery edited by Cavan Hogue (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2006). This version was obtained electronically direct from the publisher on condition that copyright is not infringed. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Individual articles are available at Ethnicity and the Politics of Location in Thailand 85 mountains have increasingly been threatened. During the past decade, many ethnic minority groups in northern Thailand have been victimized by a militant conservation policy to protect forests. In August 1999, twenty Karens from two villages in Koh Sute National Park were arrested for practising agriculture in an area where they had lived for centuries. In 1991 the Hmong of Hun Tang village in Doi Inthanon National Park were forced to abandon their agricultural practices and were threatened with relocation. Since 1992, the Royal Forestry Department (RFD) has strengthened its forest conservation policy by establishing more national parks and reforestation programmes and has stepped up its threats of relocation. From this time on, forest conservation policy became highly politicized and contested because the RFD strictly enforced the new policy on certain marginal groups, especially ethnic highlanders and poor lowlanders. It did so while favouring the rich and their investments in eucalyptus plantations, resorts and structures on forest land, etc. In addition to relocation schemes, the rapid expansion of conservation policies through establishing more national parks and reforestation programmes have threatened the security of tenure of local villagers who usually have only husbandry access to land. Several Karen villages in Mae Wang district where Paul Cohen did his research had their rotational swidden fields taken away from them. So without legal recognition of community rights and community property in general, the RFD began the establishment of new national parks and the expansion old ones in highland and lowland areas. These often encroached upon enclosures in community forests which many villages had been preserving as their graveyards, watershed areas and multi-purpose communal woodland. Changes in forest conservation policy and tightened implementation also provoked so many disputes and conflicts that local villages in Northern Thailand have begun to form a network to protect themselves against this encroachment by the state. The RFD relocation and reforestation programmes are part of what I call “spatial technologies of domination”. The RFD produces space by cutting out and differentiating between parcels of space; the use and abuse of maps, markers, borders; and the control of movements within and across different types of boundaries. So its not just distance; the borders are much more than that. They have assigned forest types, zones and so on and so forth. These boundaries, forest types and zones are authorized spaces of domination. They are what I call “spatial practices of oppression”. In addition to these technologies of domination, the RFD also uses brutal tactics to suppress the expression of cultural identities or opposition by indigenous groups. These tactics include the machinery of fear, surveillance, border guarding...


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Subject Headings

  • Thailand -- Economic conditions -- 1986-.
  • Thailand -- Politics and government -- 1988-.
  • Thailand -- Social conditions -- 1986-.
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