Published online by Cambridge University Press: 21 October 2015
The principal goal of this essay is to provide some vernacular explanations of Thailand's political crisis. Most scholars of Thai politics focus their attention on what has happened at the heart of the power game. This focus underlies their characterization of the current crisis as the country's most polarized political conflict ever. McCargo's powerful conception of “network monarchy” and work on the rise and fall of Thaksin Shinawatra, on the power struggle among members of the Thai elite, and on the role of the middle class in Thailand's problematic democratization have made significant contributions. The powerful elite and urban middle class, with much greater access to capital, the media, bureaucratic support, and electoral resources, are the perennial driving force of the Thai political economy. However, a focus on the elite and on political bargaining in Thai core offers only one side of a complex story. Ordinary people from the countryside and of urban working class backgrounds also have a very important part to play in Thailand's crisis. My concern is that the production of scholarly knowledge on the changing political and economic life of small people at the grass-roots level seems inadequate and of insufficient depth. Thailand's crisis cannot be explained without some understanding of what has actually happened in the political and economic microcosms of the countryside.
During a trip to my home village in early June 2010, I was astonished by a number of profound transformations of the village economy, of lifestyles, and of people's level of active participation in both local and national politics. The place that I forever call home is situated on the bank of the Mekong and in the farthest corner of Nong Khai Province, northeastern Thailand. Its marginal location is not far from the Laotian capital of Vientiane on the opposite river-bank. I have gradually realized that the geopolitical and socioeconomic landscapes of my birthplace are no longer the same. Walking through acres of young rubber plantations and observing village folks’ busy everyday lives, my inner sense is that the village in which I grew up in the 1970s and early 1980s has come to exist only in my distant, nostalgic memory.
In this essay, I build on an auto-ethnographic account in order to reflect on the complex forces behind the radical changes in my own birthplace and to set them against the backdrop of Thailand's ongoing political crisis.