Edited by Coeli Barry

Rights to Culture

This book brings together original, small-scale, ethnographic research on minorities (new and old, provincially-located, as well as Bangkok-based), displaced peoples and communities contesting heritage, livelihood, language and citizenship in Thailand. The book offers conceptually nuanced and empirically grounded explorations of the inter-relationship between culture and rights in Thailand. Cross-disciplinary and thematically varied studies together raise questions about the possibilities (as well as the pros and cons) of rights-informed approaches to issues such as cultural heritage management, orthography and language policy, citizenship and belonging for minorities and access to rights and resources necessary to group survival and well-being in different settings. The book will be published in 2013.


A Rights-Based Approach to Cultural Heritage Management at the Phnom Rung Historical Park in Northeast Thailand
Alexandra Denes and Tiamsoon Sirisrisak
In response to growing criticism of top-down “authorized heritage discourses” (Smith 2006) over the past two decades, heritage sectors in many countries have begun to adopt community-based, participatory approaches to heritage management. In Thailand, a number of legislative instruments advocate participatory heritage management and the rights of communities to manage their own cultural and natural resources. Drawing on field research at Angkorian-era, Khmer sanctuaries at the Phnom Rung Historical Park in Buriram Province, this chapter considers some of the fundamental challenges of putting these abstract cultural rights policies into practice. Ethnically Khmer and Lao populations living in close proximity to Phnom Rung and Muang Tam maintain a longstanding historical and cultural relationship with the sanctuaries constituted through myth, ritual and pilgrimage. However, following the sites’ official listing as a Historical Park in 1988 and subsequent interventions by the Fine Arts Department (FAD), the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT), and the provincial administration organization (PAO), the local meanings of the sanctuaries were eclipsed by their value as national heritage. This chapter argues that supporting cultural rights and engendering the participation of local communities in heritage management can not begin without first confronting the legacy of nationalism and how archaeological sites figure into the symbolics of political power in Thailand.

Decentering Hegemony? Diversity and Local Cultures in Thailand
Sirijit Sunanta
This chapter examines the ways in which the new emphasis on ethnic and cultural diversity and local cultures challenges and/or reifies center-periphery relations in Thailand and how this implicates the articulation of rights. Phu Tai villagers in a village in Northeast Thailand present themselves as good rural Thai citizens who are development-oriented and loyal to the monarchy. They have keenly demanded rights to development, particularly to education, which they embrace as a route to social mobility. The study of this award winning Cultural Village suggests that local culture is not as much a basis for right claims as it is a means for economic development. While Ban Phu villagers assert their rights to relative economic autonomy, they do not demand cultural autonomy and challenge the pre-modern cultural hierarchy that places Bangkok as the center of state civilization and symbolic power.

Conserving Bangkok’s Premier Heritage District: Ambitious Plans and Ambiguous Rights
Ho Kong Chong and Pornpan Chinnapong
Heritage conservation and redevelopment are popular projects in city development and embarked upon for a variety of goals, including the strengthening of identity, local economic development, tourism and overall place aesthetics and quality of life. The operation of such projects may create conflicts between state authorities tasked with conservation and local communities which may have alternative visions and want a say in the development process. This raises the question of whose heritage is being privileged and brings into deliberation the issue of cultural rights. Our chapter focuses on Krung Rattannakosin, Bangkok’s premier heritage district and examines plans by the government against the heritage claims of two communities Tha Tien and Fort Mahakan. Through interviewing different stakeholders involved, we show the different visions for the district. We also evaluate the nature of heritage claims made by the two communities and show how these fall short of an ideal cultural rights claim. We argue that while these community claims may not exactly fit the cultural rights framework, these claims may still have some validity. If Krung Rattanakosin is to be developed into the cultural heart of Thailand, then conservation practices should allow for a balance between national heritage and community heritage claims thereby ensuring a vibrant place which contains a mix of people, activities and buildings. At stake are the ambitions of not just the city but the nation, but at the same time, can this vision of the heritage district incorporate the various communities whose histories are intricately tied to Krung Rattanakosin?

The Politics of Scripts: Language Rights, Heritage, and the Choice of Orthography for Khmer Vernaculars in Thailand
Peter Vail and Panuwat Pantakod
This project argues that the debate over selecting a suitable Khmer vernacular orthography goes beyond issues of phonological efficiency; the choice of script makes far-reaching claims to the nature of Northern Khmer heritage and identity. Thai script, it is argued, subsumes vernacular Khmer in a national narrative of majority-minority relations likely to be counter-productive to meaningful cultural revitalization. The case of Khmer script is more complicated, because the difference in script styles – Mul or Crieng – evokes divergent understandings of heritage; where Mul script evokes local religious traditions, Crieng script is associated not with local dimensions of Khmer heritage at all, but, because of ts association with Cambodian modernization, with a broader pan-Khmer ethnolinguistic identity that may be only loosely or vaguely perceived as an issue of heritage. A further choice – no script – may best match Northern Khmer linguistic ideologies and attitudes towards their language, suggesting that technologies and media other than literacy may ultimately be more useful for purposes of Khmer cultural revitalization.

Rights Claims and the Strategic Use of Culture to Protect Human Rights: The Community Forest Movement in Thailand
Bencharat Sae Chua
This paper looks at how “culture” is used, constructed and perform in the strategic rights frame of the community forest movement in Thailand. The movement asserts that the local communities possess traditional knowledge on how to live in harmony with their forest environment. The environmental discourse and the forest stewardship identity the movement has constructed for its members powerfully challenge the Thai state’s claim to centrally control the forests and to evict local communities from protected forest. Based on the case studies of two northeastern communities joining the movement, however, the paper argues that this environmentalist frame forces the movement to limit itself within the scope of the state’s definition of permitted forest use. As a consequence, the movement avoids discussion of farmland issues for fear of their perceived association with forest encroachment, and therefore cannot address the essential needs of its members: access to forestland for viable commercial agriculture.

Culture and Rights for Urban Minorities in Bangkok
Mike Hayes and Matthew Mullen
This project investigates the factors which allow urban minorities to gain acceptance for their cultural practices comparing the status of the human right to culture in three urban minority groups in Bangkok. The groups are selected for their diversity: firstly, the Sikh community which is a well established group with high levels of respect for their culture; secondly the Migrant Worker Mon community which face some discrimination due to their status as predominantly migrant workers; and finally the West African community who are a very recent group facing significant discrimination and with limited ability to practice their culture.

An Uneasy Engagement: Political Crisis and Human Rights Culture in Thailand, 1958 to 1988
Tyrell Haberkorn
Beginning in 1946, Thailand began filing yearly reports of human rights progress and relevant legislation passed with the United Nations. These reports were then edited and compiled into one volume, the UN Yearbook on Human Rights. In the over sixty years since the yearbook began, the Thai state has promulgated and re-promulgated the Constitution and moved through a series of governments that were dictatorial, democratic, and variations in-between. Similarly, the human rights priorities of the United Nations – and what kinds of rights count as human rights – have continually shifted. Drawing on the yearly human rights reports printed by the United Nations as well as preparatory documents drafted at the Office of the Juridical Council, this chapter will examine the Thai state’s engagement with international human rights norms, as well as the possibilities produced by those norms. Writing about Bush Administration security policy documents, Robin Wagner-Pacifici argues that “A serious ethnography of state self-articulation and self-documentation must pose the question of how these documents carry forward these burdens.” Resonantly, this chapter will examine the narrative of human rights compliance and development created by the Thai contributions to the annual yearbook. Finally, this chapter will also query what is not included in the yearly contributions or the yearbook, and will analyze what this reveals about the limits of both Thai state compliance and international human rights norms.

Controlling bad drugs, creating good citizens: citizenship and social immobility for Thailand’s hill ethnic minorities
Mukdawan Sakboon
Hill ethnic minorities in Northern Thailand have been subjected to multitude of State’s interventions in the name of development for over five decades. Authorities in the past held their ‘remote’ location in the highlands along with their opium cultivation and swiddening as posing a grave threat to national security as do their current residences in the forest reserves and their alleged involvement in the trafficking of illicit drugs. Accordingly, state authorities have employed an array of strategies politically, economically, socially and culturally in order to ‘develop’ and ‘transform’ these “hilltribe” subjects into productive and loyal national citizen. In this chapter, I provide an analysis of the process of subject formation among hill villagers in Northern Thailand through an investigation of State’s implementation of key apparatuses of citizenship and education. I argue, along similar line of Aihwa Ong’s notion of cultural citizenship that this national subject formation involves both processes of self-making and being-made. I then analyse and conclude that the rhetoric of nationhood which emphasises the central role of ethnic “Thai” identity and culture while restraining full recognition of ethnic, religious and cultural diversity has strategically prevented members of the hill ethnic minorities from meaningful participation as membership of national life

Comments are closed.