Violent Rumors: The Sociality of Measurement, Uncertainty and the Haze Crisis in Northern Thailand

Authors: Mary Mostafanezhad*, University of Hawai'i at Manoa
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Political Geography, Development
Keywords: environmental crises, livelihoods, air pollution, measurement, political ecology, Thailand
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/14/2018
Start / End Time: 4:00 PM / 5:40 PM
Room: Endymion, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In May of 2016, a fire in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park hovered brightly over the Chiang Mai-Lamphun valley threatening the most sacred and toured temple in northern Thailand and scorching 290 rai of forest. Urban residents took to the streets in protest of the fires that were rumored to have been set by villagers in search of the lucrative hed thob mushroom. This event set off a range of reactions about the appropriate response to the annually recurring haze crisis which, between February and April of each year, smothers much of northern Thailand and contributes to acute respiratory problems in more than 40 percent of residents and to the loss of 50 billion Baht in tourism revenue. Rumors of the causes of the haze crisis circulate widely within the region: forest scavengers, hunters, swidden agriculturalists, agribusiness and the Myanmar state have all been identified as potential culprits. Drawing on ethnographic research among scientists (professional and citizen), and urban and rural residents, I argue that rumors of the haze crisis become enrolled in the slow violence of air pollution that co-produces human and ecological causalities. These violent rumors are driven by the sociality of measurement and its descriptions. I address how widespread uncertainty of the causes of the haze crisis are (and are not) factored into environmental regulatory regimes. In doing so, I show how the creative capacity of measurement does not merely record haze, but also contributes to the co-production of haze as both a material and social fact.

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