South East Asia Program Publications (SEAP)

Counterinsurgency in Southern Thailand

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Uneasy Military Encounters: The Imperial Politics of Counterinsurgency in Southern Thailand presents a historically and theoretically grounded political ethnography of the Thai military’s counterinsurgency practices in the southern borderland, home to the greater part of the “Malay-Muslim minority.” Ruth Streicher argues that counterinsurgency practices mark the southern population as the racialized, religious, and gendered “other” of the Thai, which contributes to producing Thailand as an imperial formation: a state formation based on essentialized difference between the Thai and their “others.”

Read our Q&A with the author and find out the details about her research of imperial politics in a non-Western context.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

For my PhD, I had actually planned to work on the resistance movement in southern Thailand. Once there, however, I realized that accessing the movement was very difficult, particularly because I speak Thai but not the local Malay dialect. At the same time, I came into contact with Thai military personnel who were very interested in my research, and eager to present their counterinsurgency efforts to me. Many people ask me how I was able to access the Thai military for this book, but it was actually their openness that made me change the subject of my research.

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

Many editors warn PhD graduates from attempting to transform their thesis into a book, but for me, the process of rewriting constituted a big chance. When writing the PhD, I was very concentrated on my empirical material, but the conceptual key to structuring my material as part of a larger argument only came years later when I engaged with postcolonial approaches, and decided to conceptualize southern Thai counterinsurgency as an integral part of the Thai imperial formation. This conceptual argument has also allowed me to better integrate historical material and theoretical discussions into the different thematic chapters of the book. 

3. How do you wish you could change the field of Political Science?

During my undergraduate studies, I was taught that the core of Political Science is the study of power, but I soon learned that many political scientists refuse to reflect on power relationships in knowledge production and the methodologies they use. I wish that more political scientists had the courage to question their own epistemological assumptions and their entanglement with existing power relationships. I wish that political scientists would approach insights from Area Studies not as data to be tapped, but as critical theoretical knowledge necessary to advance the field of Political Science. I wish that Political Science was not as white, masculine, and structured by the coloniality of power, but at the forefront of critical feminist and decolonial movements of thought.

*Featured photo by Chuanchai Pundej.

Ruth Streicher is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Heidelberg.

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