Organized Panel Session
The academic quest for particular understandings of power in relation to Thai or other Asian societies and cultures risks making long-standing traditions of diversity and civil pluralism unthinkable. Such traditions are generally not represented in public. On the contrary, it is commonplace to assume the singularity of the Thai, Javanese, or Malay, with attendant ethnic chauvinism. The case for a Southeast Asian tradition of civil pluralism counters the inevitability of inequality along such lines as ethnicity, status, and gender.
The analysis draws primarily on 1950s Thai jungle fantasies written by Malai Chuphinit. The three male characters at the center of the adventure stories never lend credibility to ideas of Thai superiority over so-called forest peoples. Education or city-ways do not confer any advantage to the characters. Nor does Buddhism appear as somehow superior to other conceptual frameworks. With that, the centrality of a universal hierarchy in Thai worldview is no longer a reliable notion.
The three men traverse the forests with an impressive collection of guns. Yet they never embody the familiar masculinity of strongmen- or godfathers (naklaeng, jaopho). An unexpectedly pleasant configuration of gender and sexuality on the Thai ethnic frontier appears in one story in particular, but resonates with the whole 2,500-page series.