Thursday, June 30, 2011

From "peasants to cosmopolitan villagers" in Thailand

That's one of the messages of this story by Thomas Fuller in today's New York Times, "Rural Thais Find an Unaccustomed Power." In addition to explaining the changing nature of rurality, the story explains how the new consciousness among rural Thai citizens is bringing them increased political power--power that it likely to influence the outcome of Sunday's national election. An excerpt from Fuller's story follows:

Once passive and fatalistic, villagers are now better educated, more mobile, less deferential and ultimately more politically demanding.

Researchers who study rural life say villages like Baan Nong Tun may be ground zero for understanding why Thailand’s political crisis — warring political factions, five years of street protests and violent military crackdowns — has been so intractable. The old social contract, whereby power flowed from Bangkok and the political establishment could count on quiet acquiescence in the Thai countryside, has broken down.

Villagers describe a sort of democratic awakening in recent years and say they are no longer willing to accept a Bangkok-knows-best patriarchal system.
The "peasants to cosmopolitan villagers" quote is from Charles Keyes, professor emeritus at the University of Washington, who studied village life in Asia five decades ago. The quote that follows, from Attachak Sattayanurak, a history professor at Chiang Mai University, elaborates on the shift in Thailand:

The old establishment and the Thai state have a picture of an agrarian society frozen in time. ... They maintain a picture of local people as well-behaved and obedient, which in fact they aren’t. Peasant society doesn’t exist anymore. ... If the country’s leaders do not understand these changes, they will not be able to solve our problems.
Indeed, riots in Bangkok last year were a manifestations of this shift in rural consciousness--and a widening chasm between the interests of urban elites and the rural have nots. Read more here.

Among other reasons Fuller mentions for the shift in consciousness among villagers are technology and migration.

Some of my more academic musings on spatial inequality and the rural-urban income gap in Asia are here.

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