New Books Network

Andrew Walker

Thailand's Political Peasants

Power in the Modern Rural Economy

University of Wisconsin Press 2012

New Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Southeast Asian StudiesNew Books Network February 16, 2015 Nick Cheesman

Over the last decade, debates about political turmoil in Thailand have loomed large in talk shows, chat rooms and public lectures. From the military...

Over the last decade, debates about political turmoil in Thailand have loomed large in talk shows, chat rooms and public lectures. From the military coup of 2006 that ousted the government of Thaksin Shinawatra, through the tumultuous years after the restoration of civilian government and the latest coup of 2014, events in Thailand have held our attention. Much of the time, these events are reduced to simplistic binaries: yellow shirts and red shirts, elites and commoners, urbanites and rural dwellers.

In Thailand’s Political Peasants: Power in the Modern Rural Economy (University of Wisconsin Press, 2012) Andrew Walker, co-founder of the influential New Mandala website–takes the reader beyond the binaries. Rural politics in contemporary Thailand, he advises, is not the old resistant politics of the rural poor; rather, it is a new middle-income politics, a politics through which rural people seek out productive connections with sources of power. In this fundamental shift in the thinking and practices of rural people, Walker argues, we find the basis of support for a new type of constitutionalism, as well as the sources of grievances that have led, at least in part, to the conflicts of the last decade.

Thailand’s Political Peasants deftly guides the reader through the many domains of power that constitute rural politics in Thailand: from the world of matrilineal spirits to organic fertilizer projects and electoral politics. The book is full of photographs, maps, and tables that add to the breadth and depth of its contents. Written with ease and flair, it offers a lucid and persuasive account of how rural Thailand is modernizing, and what change in the village means for the politics of Bangkok.