Politics of Nature Conservation in Thailand
Friday, January 20 , 2017 – 14h30 / 16h30
Alumni Meeting Room, 12th Floor,
Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University
(Faculty of Social Science, Department of sociology and Anthropology, Chiang Mai University)
This talk focuses on the process of social production of “nature” within the changing political economy of modern Thailand. By historicizing nature, I argue that the so-called untouchable, self-regulating, human-free “nature” has primarily been a product of constant state intervention in forest and natural landscapes since the turn of the twentieth century. The making of “first nature” has been an intimate part of the process of state-building, in which nature as economic capital is no less important than nature as “symbolic capital”—a signifier of the modern and civilized nation-state. Thai state’s adoption of North American wilderness thinking within the country’s particular stage of capital accumulation has engendered an ambivalence between “nature conservation” and “economic development.” Used as a tool to modernize the country and its people, Thai “nature conservation” abandons the wild freedom of areas once beyond the reach of the state and assigns new functions to the landscape now designated as “protected”. “Unspoiled nature” has also been built along the ethnic and class line. While the most perilous threat to the nature forest constructed by the state has been the agricultural activities of the “hill tribes” often portrayed as the dark side of nature, urban middle-class has been held as the savior of the fragile nature. Militarization of park management has therefore coincided with the growing desire of urban middle-class for nature consumption. As a national space, national park in Thailand since its inception has therefore come to serve as a effective tool to delineate the Thai from the non-Thai other. Nature and nation-building have thus been an integral part of the history of marginalization of the modern Thai society.