Regional articulations: contending with low rubber prices in southern Thailand

Authors: Will Shattuck*,
Topics: Regional Geography, Economic Geography, Agricultural Geography
Keywords: agrarian studies, regional identity, regionalism, rubber, Thailand
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Regency Ballroom, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Beginning in 2012, demonstrations over falling rubber prices were staged intermittently throughout southern Thailand, and were often laden with politically charged overtones targeting the administration of Yingluck Shinawatra and her allies. By August and September 2013, demonstrations had gained substantial momentum, particularly in Nakhon Si Thammarat Province's Cha-uat District, coming shortly before (and arguably helping to foment to some extent) political protests in Bangkok in late 2013. The latter would lead to Yingluck's removal from office through coup d'état in May 2014. In this paper, I examine the pleas by smallholder rubber farmers in southern Thailand to Yingluck's administration during the episodes in 2013 and trace continuities in their tone and content into the post-coup era, as rubber prices had dropped even further from levels seen in 2013. I appeal to Andrew Walker's work on Thailand's ‘middle income peasantry’ to show that sustained calls for state assistance, far from receding after the partisan tumult of 2013 and 2014 although changing in venue and style, similarly reveal efforts on the part of communities in modern rural Thailand to secure state resources through direct engagement. In apprehending the form and potential of these pleas, however, I discuss how they are firmly rooted in histories of state interventions to cultivate smallholder rubber economies across much of rural southern Thailand, and convey, thereby, moments of political expression that rely on idealized senses of the state's administrative obligations and responsibilities and allude to regionally inflected, territorial political conceptions.

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