Subjects of Politics: From Disagreement to Dictatorship in Thailand – a seminar by Dr Eli Elinoff (Wed, 13 April 2016)

Speaker: Dr Eli Elinoff (Postdoctoral Fellow, NUS Department of Sociology & Asia Research Institute)
Date: Wednesday, 12 April 2016
Time: 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Venue: AS3, Level 6, SEAS Seminar Room (06-20)

In May of 2014, the Thai military deposed elected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The coup was the 12th successful coup in the nation’s history and the second military coup in less than a decade. Since the takeover, the chief aim of the military government has been to bring order to the country by silencing disagreement. In this paper, I trace the descent from democracy to dictatorship to understand its implications for our understanding of both Thailand and politics, more generally. I do so from the vantage point of urban squatter communities in Northeastern Thailand. By following the pathways of disagreement in these settlements, I show how shifting notions of the legitimate political subject reveals an undecidable tension between two different social hierarchies—one steeped in a complex admixture of Thai nationalism and Theravada Brahmanism, the other of horizontally composed commensurable beings promised by democracy and capitalist consumption. I show how residents’ engagements with projects preceding the coup reveal the mechanisms through which progressive actors employed post-political forms of governance to hold the old hierarchy in place while attempting to slowly rearrange it. I also analyze the complex ways these policies failed to fully gentrify politics, as residents made claims to and through disagreement. I argue then that democratization does not simply rearrange institutions, but more fundamentally the ontological subjects of politics themselves.

About the speaker
Eli Elinoff is currently a joint-postdoctoral fellow in Asian Urbanisms at the National University of Singapore in the Department of Sociology and the Asia Research Institute. He received his PhD in Anthropology in 2013 from the University of California, San Diego. His research has been published in South East Asia History, Political and Legal Anthropology Review, and Contemporary Southeast Asia. He is currently working on a book manuscript entitled Architects of Citizenship: Politics and City-Making in Northeastern Thailand that examines struggles over citizenship, development, and housing in the city of Khon Kaen. He is also working on a second multi-sited ethnographic research project examining ecologies of concrete and the politics of the urban environment in Bangkok in the wake of the 2011 floods.In July of 2016 he will become a Lecturer in Cultural Anthropology at Victoria University of Wellington (NZ).