Countering ‘Plastic Addicted Subjects’: Power, Essentialized Identities, and Expertise in Thailand

Authors: Olivia Meyer*, University of Kentucky
Topics: Asia, Environment, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: Political Ecology, Thailand, Plastic Waste
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 4:50 AM / 6:05 AM
Room: Virtual 16
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Thailand is considered one of the six most significant contributors to marine plastic pollution in the world. This has led to widespread media attention and condemnation of Thai people as “addicted to plastic,” with little attention paid to how such discourses actually take shape. Drawing from semi-structured interviews with Thai regulatory institutions, grassroots environmental organizations, plastic industry representatives, and recyclers in Bangkok, I analyze the social, political, economic, and environmental processes that shape the plasticscape of Bangkok. I propose a feminist political ecology of plastic waste which attends to people’s lived experiences and perspectives on the sources and effects of plastic waste, the power relationships underlying discourses that inform the issue, and Thai activisms. Following feminist ethnographic scholarship on the importance of situated knowledges that challenge dominant forms of expertise, I complicate current understandings that presume to define the plastic pileup. My research demonstrates how the media and prominent organizations frame the issue through “plastic addiction” discourses, underpinned by Thai cultural pathologies which paint prolific consumption as an attribute of Thai culture. A blatant disregard for alternative understandings of the plastic waste issue, such as waste imports, suggests that those in power are reticent to alleviate the plastic pileup through measures that would challenge plastic production. My research further shows how solutions such as upcycling are not only ill-conceived but serve to advance the goals of consumption through the veil of “circular economies.” As a result, Thai grassroots organizers struggle to find a voice in large-scale environmental improvement schemes.

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