The Chronopolitics of Crisis: A Political Ecology of Seasonal Haze Pollution in Northern Thailand

Authors: Mary Mostafanezhad*, University of Hawai'i at Manoa, Olivier Evrard, French Institute for Sustainable Development
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Political Geography, Asia
Keywords: Air Pollution, Temporality, Crisis, Political Ecology, Thailand
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2020
Start / End Time: 2:25 PM / 3:40 PM
Room: Plaza Court 6, Sheraton, Concourse Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Geographers’ engagements with environmental crises have taken a number of forms. Some scholars argue that crises judgments are revelatory and expose the contradictions of modes of production through interruptions to socio-economic life that can no longer be ignored. Others contend that crises judgments conceal more than they reveal through the framing of crisis as “error” and the focus on technocratic solutions to political-economic problems. In this article, we argue that the judgment of seasonal air pollution as a crisis is contingent on contestations over livelihoods and worldviews. Based in northern Thailand, the paper focuses on the region’s annually recurring “haze crisis”. In recent decades, broad shifts from subsistence farming to commercial agriculture and increased volumes of agricultural biomass burning have reportedly exacerbated the production of air pollution in the form of haze—an airborne mixture of pollutants that includes gasses, fine soot particles, and carbon dioxide. Once a quotidian phenomenon of relatively little concern, today seasonal air pollution is described as a haze crisis. While causal uncertainty exists surrounding the precise combination of the socio-ecological drivers of haze production, multiple narratives of the causes and effects of the haze circulate throughout the region, in which blame is frequently placed on smallholder farmers who have recently entered into new market relations. Situated within broader regional agrarian transitions, we draw on mixed ethnographic, archival and geospatial methods to examine the chronopolitics of seasonal air pollution and by what mechanisms such pollution comes to be constituted as a “crisis”.

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