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Countering “Plastic Addicted Subjects”: Power, Essentialized Identities, and Expertise in Thailand

Authors: Olivia Meyer*, University of Kentucky
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Asia, Third World
Keywords: Political Ecology, Thailand, Plastic Waste
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In this paper, I draw from semi-structured interviews with Thai regulatory institutions, grassroots environmental organizations and residents living and working near waste sites, to investigate the plastic pileup in Thailand, considered one of the six most significant contributors to marine plastic pollution (Jambeck et al., 2015). I follow feminist scholarship, arguing for the importance of the everyday dimension and local voices in challenging hegemonic and global discourses. I do so by exploring the situated experiences of Thai residents while challenging the capitalist logics and policies that perpetuate inequality surrounding the plastic issue. In particular, I propose a feminist political ecology of plastic waste in Thailand which attends to people’s lived experience with and perspectives on the sources and effects of plastic waste, the power relationships underlying discourses that inform the issue, and Thai responses and agency. This approach is a response to the dearth of political ecology research on the issue of plastic waste and Bangkok waste infrastructure. Through discourse analysis of over thirty in-depth interviews, I discuss the emergence of environmental social movements in Thailand and of conflicts and coalitions that occur among groups. Findings suggest that those in power are reticent to alleviate the plastic pileup through measures that would challenge plastic production, as international discourses largely serve their interests. Regulatory groups contest Thailand’s ranking in the Jambeck et al. study while grassroots organizers call for western-derived solutions and regulatory measures. I argue that proposed solutions on the plastic pileup in Thailand must consider local context and perspectives.

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