Neither Rebels nor Dupes: The New Politics of Thai Peasants

Andrew Walker, Deputy Dean, College of Asia and the Pacific at The Australian National University

RSVP Required by 5PM on October 24

Since Thailand’s coup of September 2006, which forced the controversial government of billionaire businessman Thaksin Shinawatra out of office, pro- and anti-Thaksin forces have waged an intense battle for control of the government. Rural people in Thailand have played an important role in this struggle, but the nature of their politics is poorly understood. On the one hand there are breathless accounts of agrarian class struggle, while on the other hand rural protest is dismissed as the product of elite manipulation and financial inducement. These paradigms are unhelpful because they ignored the emergence of a new political relationship between the state and the rural population. Sustained economic growth since the 1960s had lifted rural households to levels of income and consumption previously unimagined. They are no longer mainly challenged by food insecurity but by the need to diversify economically and improve productivity. The state plays a key role in addressing these challenges through an array of subsidy, welfare, and community development schemes. Modern peasant politics in Thailand are motivated not by an antagonistic relationship with the state but by a desire to draw the state into mutually beneficial transactions. The classic frameworks for explaining peasant political behaviour, based on rebellion or resistance, are impediments to understanding this new style of political behavior. Prof. Walker will propose instead an alternative model of rural “political society” based on the relationship between a persistent peasantry and a subsidising state.

Thursday, October 25, 2012 | 12:00 pm — 1:30 pm
Okimoto Conference Room, Encina Hall East, 3rd Floor