(Re)crafting Citizenship: Cards, Colors, and the Politic of Identification in Thailand

Apr 21, 2015 | 12:00 PM

Pinkaew Laungaramsri (Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Chiang Mai University; HYI Visiting Scholar)
Chair/Discussant: Michael Herzfeld (Ernest E. Monrad Professor of the Social Sciences, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University)

Co-sponsored with the Harvard University Asia Center

This talk focuses on the shifting and conflicting constructions of citizenship and its complex apparatus of identification card system in Thailand. Central to the research question is how the chaotic card system in Thailand has been historically invented and utilized by state agencies in different periods of time and how such inventions have contributed to the crafting of differential citizenship in Thailand. The talk will also investigate the way in which the state graphic artifact of ID cards has been actively learned and re-interpreted into the local understanding of citizenship at the margins. It contends that the culture of identification in Thailand is characterized by tension and contradiction, the product of the interplay between shifting official forms of domination and control and minorities’ experimentation and everyday practice. While state differentiation between Thai national and alien others has long been integral to the process of nation-building, such attempts have often been contested. Informal politic thus plays a crucial role in shaping citizenship discourse among the Thai as well as among non-Thai immigrants. Cards and colors, as a powerful technique of statecraft deployed to control mobility and fix the identity of border-crossing people, have often been employed by non-Thai subjects as assets for circulation and tools for negotiation. Pragmatic citizenship constitutes therefore a reworking of national identification as something alive and practical–involving a multiplicity of actors struggling in an enlarged political sphere extending beyond the constriction of legality. It is in this realm that the non-Thai other is allowed the possibility of being both subjectified and subject-making in the unstable state-ethnic relationship of modern Thai society.