Huiying Ng is a scholar-practitioner exploring rural-urban agricultural learning networks, agroecology, and community resilience. As a doctoral student of anthropology at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, Munich, Germany, she works with the project team Environing Infrastructures, supported by the Volkswagen Foundation’s freigeist research grants. She channels her energy for knowledge exchange and action research methodologies into the Soil Regeneration Project (Singapore). Huiying’s academic work has appeared in Urban Studies, the Journal of Urbanism (forthcoming), the Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning, Psychology & Health, and two edited volumes on Singapore and Southeast Asia.
Toxic mediums: the production of Thailand’s plantation frontiers
In the 1960s-1980s, a number of newly-independent Southeast Asian and East Asian nations began to embrace self-identified developmental policies, framing their actions in terms of European and American commerce. Imperial and colonial dynamics instilled in the region acupressure points of penetration and reaction, providing a firm base for ongoing revolution and counterrevolution. During this time, migratory movements of people fleeing the Cultural Revolution in China and US-sponsored civil war in the Mekong countries scattered peoples across the region. The ethnic backgrounds of diasporic communities set the base for intergenerational affiliations which carry on today. These affiliations provide significant basis to understand new sociopolitical negotiations and formations, particularly around an intensifying interpenetration of the agrarian and the urban, autonomy and control, agri-tech visions and smallholder romanticism.
This paper traces a distilled political economic history of Thailand’s agricultural economy and its interpenetration with imperial capital, beginning with the reign of King Rama V, to (the previous) King Rama IX. It grounds the transformation of Thailand’s northern and northeastern peripheries in the material practices of agrarian and reproductive labour, pegged to the rhythm of Siam’s post-WWII trade agreements.
The paper identifies two areas of research for critical agrarian studies: first, it describes the maintenance of agrichemical circulations on formerly reproductive landscapes. A second area of study focuses on the depopulation of spiritual animist landscapes through the inscription of commodity frontiers. Finally, by drawing on critical literary theory, geography, and anthropology, it hints at an alternative narrative environment of smallholders’ lives.
Affiliation: Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, Gerrmany