180th Meeting – February 1999


“Women and NGOs in Northern Thailand: Activities, Challenges and Implications.”

A talk by LeeRay Costa


Your convenor writes: As no summary was written at the time, and LeeRay’s notes for her talk have long since disappeared, this summary for the talk is based on an essay LeeRay wrote in 2008 which covers all of the same material from her 1999 talk and more.

June 2008, Vol. 32, pp. 215 – 238

Gender, Sexuality and Nationalism in a Northern Thai Non-governmental Organisation


Hollins University


LeeRay: Mae, if you asked yourself the question, ‘‘who am I?’’, how would

you answer?

Mae Somjit: Eh . . . for me . . . I am a Thai. Every person who is born should do

something for society. If I answered this question, I [would say] I am a Thai. I

should do something for Thai people.

In the late 1990s I conducted fieldwork in northern Thailand among the nongovernmental organisation (NGO) community. My research concentrated on the Project for Tomorrow (PFT), a small, rural development organisation dedicated to improving the lives of women and youth.1 Just as I began fieldwork in 1997, Thailand plunged into economic chaos and a ‘‘narrative of nationalist crisis’(Heng and Devan, 1995) emerged that pervaded public discourse at all levels, including my conversations with NGO members and villagers. The exchange above between myself and Mae Somjit, PFT’s president, highlights the concern with national identity that is the subject of this article.

Here I examine nationalist discourses provoked by processes of globalisation, including the Asian economic crisis, and how they found their way into the practices and discourses of PFT members. Specifically, I consider nationalist rhetoric found in the implementation of PFT’s Routes and Futures Project aimed at eliminating child prostitution2 in the north. Of particular interest is the ‘‘overt gendering’(Stivens, 2002) and sexualising of this nationalist rhetoric, its convergence on the bodies of

*Correspondence Address: PO Box 9575, Roanoke, VA 24020, USA. Email:lcosta@hollins.edu

ISSN 1035-7823 print/ISSN 1467-8403 online/08/020215-24 ? 2008 Asian Studies Association of Australia DOI: 10.1080/10357820802065176

rural/village female youth, and the implications of this nationalism for Thai women’s citizenship.

My interest in nationalism is largely a result of what I encountered in the field, while my particular treatment of it responds to theoretical calls voiced first by feminist scholars such as Nira Yuval-Davis and Floya Anthias (1989), Deniz Kandiyoti (1991) and Anne McClintock (1993), and more recently in the case of Thailand by historian Craig J. Reynolds. Citing the work of Hobsbawm (1983), Gellner (1964) and Anderson (1991), McClintock notes that while ‘‘the invented nature of nationalism has found wide theoretical currency, explorations of the gendering of the national imaginary have been conspicuously paltry’(1993, p. 61). Kandiyoti, Yuval-Davis and Anthias convincingly demonstrate that frequently ‘‘national identity and cultural dierence are articulated as forms of control over women . . . which infringe upon their rights as enfranchised citizens’(Kandiyoti, 1991, p. 429). Yuval-Davis and Anthias outline five major ways in which women tend to participate in national and ethnic processes, three of which are central to my discussion:


as reproducers of the boundaries of ethnic/national groups;


as participating centrally in the ideological reproduction of the collectivity and as


transmitters of its culture;


as signifiers of ethnic/national dierences – as a focus and symbol in ideological


discourses used in the construction, reproduction and transformation of ethnic/


national categories (1989, p. 7).3


These calls by feminist scholars have been taken seriously, and the gendered and sexualised nature of nationalism has been analysed in numerous Asian contexts including Malaysia (Stivens, 2002; Peletz, 1995), Indonesia (Dwyer, 2000), Singapore (Heng and Devan, 1995), and the Pacific (Jolly and Ram, 2001). Studies of Siamese and Thai nationalism have proliferated over the past two decades, especially within the disciplines of history and political science (see, for example, Kasian, 2001; Hewison, 2000; Thongchai, 1994; Barme´, 1993; Copeland, 1993; and Reynolds, 2006; 1991). However, most of these analyses have overlooked nationalism’s gendered and sexualised aspects, a point made by Reynolds in 1994 and restated in 1999 and 2006.

New studies on Siamese and Thai nationalism emerging in the 2000s have begun to rectify this oversight in the literature, and this essay contributes to this vital body of work. Andrea Whittaker’s (2000; 2001; 2004) ongoing research on women’s health has examined how state policies on reproduction and family planning not only focus solely on women’s bodies, but also perpetuate hierarchies between urbanites (Central Thai) and villagers (ethnic Lao) as part of a broader program of national development. Megan Sinnott’s (2004) study of female same-sex relationships demonstrates how ‘‘discourses of ‘homosexuality’’have been deployed in state rhetoric to indicate ‘‘social decay’of the Thai nation. More pertinent to the topics raised here is the work of Tamara Loos and Leslie Ann Jerey. Loos(2006) historical study privileges an analysis of Siamese family law during the reigns of King Rama V (1868–1910) and Rama VI (1910–25) to illuminate how Siam negotiated its own form of modernity and nationhood. Loos eectively demonstrates how the sexual behaviour of male government ocials came under increasing scrutiny and discipline as the merits and legal status of polygyny were debated, while the category of ‘‘wife’became redefined to include only ‘‘honourable’women characterised ‘‘in opposition to ‘prostitute,‘harlot,and ‘mistress’’(2006, p. 149). Legal reform around family law resulted, Loos argues, in establishing men as ‘‘citizens of the nation’and women – through their relationship to men – only as ‘‘wife, mother, daughter, and so on’(2006, p. 151), a notion of citizenship that reverberates into the present. Jerey has explored the relationship between Thai nationalism and the evolution of prostitution policy with an emphasis on the latter half of the twentieth century. She argues that over the past one hundred years, the image of the Thai prostitute has been used repeatedly by government ocials, activists, policymakers and others to regulate women’s sexual behaviour, and to signify both the borders and ‘‘decline of the Thai nation’(2002, p. 37).

Building on this scholarship, this essay interrogates the gendered and sexualised nature of contemporary Thai nationalism, while simultaneously shifting attention to what might be perceived as an unlikely context, a nongovernmental organisation. This is because NGOs, in their association with ‘‘civil society’’, have often been defined as oppositional to the state and its nationalist projects. Acknowledging NGOs as a key site where nationalist discourse may not simply be rejected but be negotiated and even actively reproduced emphasises that NGOs should be examined more carefully for their conservative tendencies and relations of power (Fisher, 1997), and as a critical location for gendering and sexualising bodies in relation to projects for national development. Furthermore, critical, detailed studies on the inner workings of Thai NGOs – especially those involving gender and youth, and those active during the cultural and political shifts of the late 1990s – remain limited.4 Nerida Cook’s (1998) work is notable for its analysis of NGO work by middle-class Thai women. She focuses on the roles gender, class, education and geographic location play in NGO discourse and practice in two prostitution elimination projects. Though brief, Cook’s article persuasively argues for attentiveness to the cultural and intersectional politics that shape Thai NGO activities. The present study seeks to further address Thai NGOs from an ethnographic and feminist perspective.

I begin with a brief discussion of late 1990s Thailand and the national anxieties made manifest in state, market and popular discourses. Next I discuss the Project for Tomorrow and its Routes and Futures project before moving on to delineate how nationalist discourses were circulated through NGO practices. My analysis accentuates the centrality of young rural women’s bodies to PFT’s development work, and to the crafting of national dierence. I argue that 1990s Thailand oers an instructive example of a gendered and sexualised nationalism provoked by processes of globalisation and related urges to define ‘‘Thainess’through gendered and sexualised dierence. My analysis raises critical questions about NGOs working in the area of gender and development, and how such work, informed and shaped as it is by gendered and sexualised nationalist discourses, has serious implications for Thai women’s rights and Thai women’s citizenship.

National Anxieties

     The period 1997–2000, during which I conducted this fieldwork, was a tumultuous time in recent Thai history due to the Asian economic crisis, the consequent flotation of the baht and the Thai government’s decision to take on an IMF loan in the amount of US$17.2 billion. Although assaults on Thailand’s economic and political sovereignty have a long history, in the late 1990s they were often characterised in public discourse as aspects of more recent processes of ‘‘globalisation’[lokanuwat] which Reynolds (1998; 2000; 2002) and Tejapira (2001) have amply analysed. In particular, foreigners, their beliefs, values and practices were identified as the origins of such processes and as threats both to Thailands economy and to Thai culture and ways of life. This threatening ‘‘other’was codified in Thai discourses as ‘‘Westerner/ European’[farang5], ‘‘modern’[thansamai] and ‘‘global/isation’[lokanuwat, lokaphiwat], and provided the necessary negative for imagining Thainess at this moment of national crisis.

Anxieties around these real and imagined threats were expressed in a heightened nationalist fervour evident in public discourse as it circulated in the national media; for example in product advertising (Jory, 1999), Tourist Authority campaigns (Reynolds, 2001, p. 254) and newspaper articles and cartoons (Figure 1).

Billboards in Chiang Mai and other provincial areas urged people to ‘‘buy Thai, eat Thai, and travel Thai’[seu Thai, gin Thai, thiaw Thai]. That Taksin Shinawatra named his new political party that was registered in 1998 Thai Rak Thai [Thai Love Thai] further reveals the nationalist sentiments sweeping the country at the time. This nationalist enthusiasm even crossed over into Thailands Buddhist arena. In a campaign entitled ‘Thai Help Thai[Thai chuay Thai] organised by the Buddhist forest monk Luangta Maha Bua and his followers (Kamala, 1997), people were urged to exchange their US dollars for Thai baht, and to donate their gold to


Figure 1. Bangkok Post, 21 September 1998.

Buddhist temples in order to shore up the nation’s foreign exchange reserves (Kasian, 2001; Klima, 2004). According to Klima

Stressing both valued Buddhist sentiments of ‘kindness, compassion, and generosity(metta), and nationalist sentiments of ‘love for the nation(khuam rak chaad), Luangta and Thai-Help-Thai turned some traditional practices for generating Buddhist-oriented sentiments in merit-making toward new aims, creating a kind of voluntary taxation that was at the same time a religious observance’(2004, p. 449).

Klima provides a vivid description of ‘‘merit-making ceremonies to save the nation’’, which included merit-making trees of money (both baht and dollars) and ‘‘the added touches of a Thai national flag and a photo of Luangta with the King on his knees’(2004, p. 450). Klima states that Luangta’s Thai-Help-Thai campaign raised over two tons of gold and more than 200 million baht (US$ 5 million). However, he also notes that this sum did ‘‘not even come close to figuring 1 percent of the debt’(2004,

p. 459).

Yet, anxieties over globalisation and an encroaching Western imperialism went beyond concerns about the Thai economy to concerns for Thai ‘‘culture’and especially the sexual behaviour of female youth.6 While ‘‘moral panic’might not be exactly the right phrase for what was occurring in the Thai context in the late 1990s, much energy was spent debating the moral transgressions of Thai youth. Public discourse – in newspapers, on TV, in government and NGO meetings, for example – expressed alarm over increasing rates of youth drug addiction, rising numbers of prostitutes (especially among female college students) and scantily clad young women. During one local panic in January 1998, Chulalongkorn University administrators were outraged over the extremely short skirts of female students and launched a ‘‘Preserve Chula’s Dignity’[Raksa Kiatiphum Jula] campaign. Campaign posters depicted a young woman from the waist down, hand on her hip, wearing an extremely short skirt, next to a salivating crocodile looking on from the left. The caption reads ‘‘Don’t tempt! Don’t dress like this and cause the honour of Chula to deteriorate!’Administrators argued that such revealing clothing not only provokes sex crimes but is ‘‘against the Thai tradition of decent dressing’(Nation, 28 January 1998). The campaign sparked public debates over personal rights, sexual violation, and Thai culture with women’s bodies standing in for the integrity and dignity of the university. The claim that such sartorial transgression is against ‘‘Thai tradition’also suggests that women’s bodies operate as metaphors for Thai culture and the Thai nation (Kandiyoti, 1991, p. 435). That women’s bodies are frequently called upon to do such symbolic work in Thailand (and Siam) has been amply demonstrated by Jerey (2002) and Loos (2006).

While living among the Chiang Mai University community, I encountered numerous discussions among colleagues and friends about the ‘‘bad’and unseemly behaviour of college students, including public displays of intimacy, premarital sexual relations, and cohabiting before marriage (without their parentsknowledge). Concerned discussions about these issues crossed class and geographic lines and were quite frequent among PFT organisation members in the village, where they converged on the topics of prostitution and rural female youth.

The Project for Tomorrow

The Project for Tomorrow is a small organisation located south of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. PFT began in 1987 as a community-based organisation working on behalf of rural villagers, especially women and youth. PFT is staed by volunteers, with only two formally and regularly paid positions, Project Coordinator and Project Accountant. While membership in PFT was fluid, approximately nineteen people were active in organisation activities during the period of my research (twelve women, seven men). Of these nineteen, nine people formed the core working group (six women, three men). During project activities there were always more women volunteers present. However, during mixed-gender PFT meetings, men often dominated discussions. Four male members in particular, Udom, Somsak, Yuttapong and Chatchai (designated either as ‘‘scholar’[wichakan] or ‘‘advisor’[kammakan thi preuksa] in PFT brochures), were periodically called upon by Mae Somjit to assist in conceptualising PFT philosophy and activities. Of PFT’s nine advisors, six were men – all worked full-time as civil servants [kharachakan], and several held master’s degrees. The three female advisors were also connected with the government (as university professor, community development ocer, and senator), and their education levels ranged from associate degree to postgraduate coursework. The rest of PFT’s members, including Mae Somjit, tended to have far less education, although a few were grade school teachers. Notably, these women did most of the day-to-day work of the organisation, including planning and carrying out youth activities. Several of the women volunteers, including Mae Somjit and Chujai, were in the process of seeking formal education beyond the grade four they had originally completed as children. They told me it was increasingly dicult to do NGO and community work without formal education, as they came into constant contact with civil servants, university professors, and funding agency representatives. The fact that PFT’s membership was largely though not entirely drawn from civil servants is another indication of how nationalist discourses found their way into NGO sites.

The organisation’s president is Mae Somjit, a woman in her late fifties. Until 1998, the NGO oce was located in Mae Somjit’s living room, but a large grant (discussed below) allowed her to build a separate oce on her family property, fully equipped with a computer and fax machine. Mae Somjit was married to Pho Pattana, a retired civil servant. Although Mae lacked formal education she was an accomplished businesswoman and hers was one of the more wealthy households in her village. Mae’s status as a rural leader was accomplished through years of participation in the Village Housewife Association and her leadership in establishing a community-run day care centre in her area. These experiences led to her role in PFT, and to invitations to participate in other NGOs and organisation networks. Participation by Mae Somjit (and occasionally other PFT members) in a variety of meetings and conferences organised by Thai scholars and women’s groups (such as the Center for the Advancement of Lanna Women, and the Friends of Women), and funded by foreign agencies (such as Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and the Asia Foundation),7 provided additional circuits for the movement of nationalist and culturalist discourses.

PFT works mainly with lowland Thai and is not involved in ethnic minority issues. In the past, PFT has focused on village income-generating projects, factory workershealth, women in local politics, children’s education, and HIV/AIDs. PFT relies heavily upon private donations and fundraising activities, but has also been the recipient of grants from foreign funding agencies and Thai NGOs. These include Redd Barna (Norway), Terre des Hommes (Germany), and the National Council for Child and Youth Development (NCCYD) [Sapha Ongkan Phathana Dek lae Yaowachon].

When I began fieldwork, PFT had just received a grant of 1.3 million baht (approximately US$35,0008) from Protect Our Youth (POY) to conduct a two-year project to eliminate child prostitution. The POY grant was the largest PFT had ever received, and some members voiced concern that the donor’s expectations might be too high for this small organisation. POY is an international network of organisations headquartered in Europe whose goal is to eliminate child prostitution, child pornography and child tracking. This grant was part of a larger regional project that included five Thai organisations in the upper northern provinces. Each NGO approached child prostitution uniquely and all were expected to share their lessons, challenges and outcomes with one another, and with a broader global audience. Hence PFT members prepared regular reports for POY that I quote from in this article. Several PFT members (all women) also attended periodic POY regional conferences to share progress reports and to learn more about child prostitution and development. These provided additional venues for the circulation of nationalist discourse and practice.

The goals of PFT’s Routes and Futures9 project were stated as follows in organisation documents written for POY:

.                        1              To prevent children from entering prostitution in the province.

.                        2              To create new values for children, family, and community so they can better protect themselves from exploitation.

.                        3              To strengthen the children’s network in the province by supporting vocational training, cultural development, and organisational development through the resource centre.

.                        4              To raise awareness and mobilise volunteers, local scholars, people’s organisations and other concerned organisations to participate in solving children’s problems (POY Document, p. 1).10


To achieve these objectives, PFT proposed a series of 25 activities spanning two years. Activities were conducted in three separate districts [amphoe] and more than 20 villages and targeted over 1,200 young people between the ages of nine and eighteen. Activities included youth seminars, local career groups, career-oriented field trips, northern Thai music classes and English classes.

Although PFT’s project was ostensibly aimed at all ‘‘youth’’, I observed that PFT primarily targeted females. This was in part a result of how the so-called ‘‘prostitution problem’[panha sopheni] is typically understood in Thailand. As Jerey points out, emphasis on the ‘‘foreign causes’of Thai prostitution in both the popular media and academic research obscures domestic demand and the role of ethnic Thai men as clients (2002, pp. 40–41), a point I revisit below. As a result, eorts at eradication inevitably focus on females in their roles as prostitutes, customers or proprietors, rather than on males. Prostitution statistics commonly count females as opposed to males, despite the male children and kathoey [transgendered males]11 involved in commercial sex work. Published estimates of the number of female prostitutes range between 75,000 and 2.8 million, although 150,000 to 200,000 is the figure generally agreed upon (Wathinee and Guest, 1994, pp. 30–31; Pasuk et al., 1998). In a separate article (Costa, 2003), I interrogate the ambiguity of prostitution statistics in Thailand and, following Montgomery (2001), Jerey (2002), and Arnold and Bertone (2002), suggest that alternate readings of such statistics are possible. For example, the repetition of such statistics and attendant discourses of moral panic may be an eect of orientalising discourses originating in the West that seek to portray Thailand as ‘‘other’and in need of development/help/change, thereby legitimating state, NGO and church-led interventions. Such discourses similarly provoke the type of nationalist rhetoric that I analyse in this article.

The following excerpt from a PFT document details PFT membersunderlying assumptions about the Thai ‘‘prostitution problem’and its perceived connection to globalisation. The document reads:

Today, children’s families in the countryside are in economic crisis. This has caused hardship and collision with materialist values. Changes in culture cause the deterioration of ethics and violence from drug addiction. This causes children to have the wrong attitudes and values, and puts them at risk of entering the commercial sex trade and covert forms of prostitution (PFT Document, 31 May 1998).12

The text makes salient connections between economic crisis, materialism, cultural change and perceived immoral behaviour such as prostitution. PFT’s Routes and Futures project reflects and engages with larger national fears about the unequal and complex manifestations of capitalist development and the transformation of rural Thai culture, including gender and sexual relations. Here state and NGO discourses merge in their common aim to define ‘‘Thainess’as morally and culturally superior to the foreign ‘‘other’’.

The argument that follows draws upon fieldwork, numerous interviews and questionnaires, as well as the analysis of NGO documents and publications written primarily for funding agencies, government bodies, PFT members, and participants in the Routes and Futures project.

NGOs, Nationalism and the Boundaries of ‘‘Thainess’

Although PFT’s Routes and Futures project was narrowly defined by the donor as aiming to eliminate child prostitution, I argue that PFT members had other goals that were intimately shaped by emergent nationalist rhetoric. Responding to national anxieties, PFT situated its anti-prostitution aims within a larger and preexisting project of preserving ‘‘traditional’culture. This ‘‘culturalist approach to development’’, which has roots in the ‘‘community culture’school [wathanatham chumchon] and is sometimes described as ‘‘localism’(see Chatthip, 1991; Seri, 1986; Rigg, 1991; 1994; Hewison, 1993; 2000; and Reynolds, 2001) emphasises local and/ or village definitions of what it means to be Thai [khon Thai] and especially northern Thai [khon meuang]. The emergence of the community culture school in the latter part of the twentieth century reveals contestations over national ‘‘development’and Thai culture, strategic arenas where people imagine, define and manage ‘‘Thainess’in an era when boundaries, national and otherwise, are becoming increasingly fluid. However, as Peter Vandergeest has argued, for many ‘‘the primordial status of the village allows it to be identified with the nation, that is, with what it is to be Thai’(1996, p. 289).13 The discourses and practices of PFT support this claim as members work the slippage between village and nation, for example, by promoting activities that are associated with village meuang culture such as northern Thai music, weaving and dress, as symbolic of ‘‘Thainess’’. This slippage is interesting because there is no ‘‘typical’Thai village, as ‘‘Thailand(formerly Siam) is a recent invention incorporating numerous ethnic and regional groups (Thongchai, 1994; Streckfuss, 1993). Localism in late twentieth-century Thailand emerged in part in reaction to national development programs that criticised village life for its ‘‘backward’ways and sought to homogenise these dierences. Yet, in the case of PFT’s work, the emphasis on local culture becomes not simply a rejection of the nation, but rather a privileged claim to national belonging.

Central to PFT’s development project were NGO practices that sought to discipline young females. Female bodies became an important site of cultural and political struggle over not only appropriate sexual mores for girls and women, but also how Thailand should develop and what it means to be ‘‘Thai’in the IMF era. In their attempts to manage female bodies, PFT members focus on three intersecting axes constituting national and cultural dierence: 1) Thai youth as national resources; 2) the importance of economic self-reliance; and 3) normative sexuality and morality. Each of these axes engages broader discourses about capitalist penetration of Thailand and the cultural corruption of Thai values by ‘‘the West’’. I discuss each of these axes in turn below.

This theorisation of bodies and discipline derives from the work of Michel Foucault and his notion of ‘‘bio-power’’, which he defines as ‘‘the subjugation of bodies and the control of populations’for various purposes (1990, pp. 140–41). Here, the body – both individual and social – is understood as a template upon which specific historical and cultural contingencies, discursive regimes, as well as relationships of power are inscribed as a means of social control (Ong and Peletz, 1995, p. 6). Foucault argues that the body as an ‘‘inscribed surface of events’can be traced through attention to discourse (or ‘‘genealogy’’) (1984, p. 83), and the ‘‘micro-physics’of practice. In my analysis of the convergence of nationalist rhetoric with NGO discourse and practice, I show how the bodies of young village women become potent sites for a nationalist reinscription of Thai culture and development (including ‘‘traditional’gender roles), the reassertion of national boundaries in an era of globalisation and, consequently, the limitation of women’s rights as members of the nation.

Youth as National Resources

Implicit in PFT eorts to discipline female youth are notions of Thai youth as a ‘‘national resource’[saphayakon khong chat] that must be properly ‘‘developed’[phathana]. This politicised focus on children and youth is one instance of a more pervasive global discourse linking development, youth and NGOs evidenced in the work of international agencies such as UNICEF. PFT members assert that ‘‘the children of today will be the adults of tomorrow’’, and argue that Thai people must pay attention to the dreadful problems currently confronting Thai youth. One PFT document states that ‘‘[t]he problems of children are problems that will go away only slowly. If we do not conduct this project, [these problems] will have eects on society, the family, the community, and the nation in the long run’(PFT Document, May 1998, p. 3). Similarly, PFT president Mae Somjit asserts that by raising the awareness of children, they will become an ‘‘important strength of the nation in the future’’.

The identification of Thai youth and moral behaviour with the nation was especially apparent in the country’s ‘‘National Children’s Day’[wan dek haeng chat], held each year on 9 January. To mark the occasion in 1999, PFT organised an event in the district centre along with housewife groups, children’s centre leaders and government ocials. PFT, the only NGO present, set up an exhibition displaying the organisation’s work, and conducted games for children. Sixteen boards explained PFT’s community development work with youth and described problems such as drug addiction and prostitution. Presentation photos oered an idealised picture of Thai youth in their neatly pressed blue mohom shirts14 seated around their music teacher, Lung Lanna. Such images reinforce national ideals of discipline [winai], cleanliness [khwamsa’at] and order [kanrabiap].

These national themes were explicitly stated on one of PFT’s poster boards, illustrated with nine photos and nine mottoes. Some of the text reads:

.                        1              Believe firmly in the nation. Thai children should believe firmly in the institution of the nation, i.e. nation, religion and the monarch as the leader of a democratic governing system.

.                        2              Conduct yourself as a good child of the nation. Thai children should receive training to conduct themselves as those with goodwill towards helping the public and developing the nation to progress.

.                        3              Preserve traditions and culture. Thai children should be supported in preserving national customs, traditions, and culture, e.g. making merit by giving alms, respecting elders.

.                        4              Help develop the collectivity. All children should receive training to help each other develop the nation as a whole and help each other care for and preserve the cleanliness and tidiness of the country.


These mottoes indicate not only the expectations of Thai youth, but also how such expectations will serve and sustain the Thai nation through individual and collective forms of national identity.

However, these expectations are also profoundly gendered. ‘‘Conduct[ing] [one]self as a good child of the nation’means something dierent for boys and girls, and men and women, who are not only expected to enter into public life in varied ways, but also occupy positions of national subjectivity quite dierently. A cursory look at Thailand’s national leadership reveals that men dominate public positions of influence and power while women lead in more local contexts (e.g., village and district bodies) and indirect ways (as the wives, mothers and grandmothers of male leaders). Likewise, ‘‘preserv[ing] traditions and culture’has largely been assumed to be the province of women rather than men, a practice readily demonstrated by members of the nation-wide network of Village Housewife Association [klum mae ban] groups. Scholars have observed this tendency cross-culturally, and argue that during moments of vast social change – such as postcolonial movements, nationalist projects and globalisation – women’s practices and bodies become potent sites for cultural struggle and the maintenance of national boundaries (Kandiyoti, 1991; Parker et al., 1992; McClintock, 1993; Mayer, 2000; Chatterjee, 1989).

Debates over women’s dress are a case in point. PFT members criticised young women’s fashions because they interpreted them as negating Thai tradition and as indicative of the Western values of materialism and consumption. As Mae Somjit told a visiting Nepalese Minister of Parliament, ‘‘[w]e want to prevent [children] from adopting modern styles of dress. This local dress is appropriate for our area, for our lifestyle. We want to create new social norms and values in our children so they won’t spend so much money’’.15 In fact, several older female PFT members made a concerted eort to wear northern-style clothing made from locally produced fabrics during PFT activities in order to act as ‘‘role models’for Thai youth, who typically dressed in neatly pressed t-shirts and jeans.16 Female PFT membersinterest in ‘‘traditional’locally produced clothing was no doubt genuine, although it certainly reflected broader popular regional discourses on the ‘‘local’that celebrated northern Thai culture, food, music, art and textiles. In one meeting with funding agency representatives, male PFT member Chatchai asserted that ‘‘[t]here is this problem of fashion magazines which are dangerous because they advertise expensive handbags which cost 10,000 baht’’. PFT members disapproved of these fashions because they saw them as another impetus for young women to enter into prostitution. According to memberslogic, many young women engage in prostitution not because of poverty, but because it will allow them to earn enough disposable income to purchase the symbols of Western modernity and globalisation that are promoted in the Thai media (Mills, 1999; Jerey, 2002). More importantly, the adoption of Western dress by young Thais indicates to PFT members not only a corrupting foreign influence, but also a breach of national cultural dierence.17

Significant however is the lack of attention paid by PFT members to male dress or how young men’s consumption practices (e.g. of foreign products such as alcohol, cigarettes and motorcycles) may also contribute towards challenging Thainess and its boundaries. This suggests a gendered double standard, not unlike that found in the realm of sexuality, which I discuss below. It also indicates that young women experience more oppression than young men in terms of personal autonomy and agency, a fact that has serious implications for women’s ability to fully participate as citizens in a democratic society.

Economic Self-Reliance

One of the centrepieces of PFT’s Routes and Futures Project was the ‘‘local careers’or ‘‘income-generating groups’for youth to raise chickens and fish, make organic fertiliser, and spin and weave cotton. These activities had several goals. First, they were intended to prevent migration to the cities for work as the economy shifted from subsistence agriculture towards export-led industrialisation. PFT members told me that Thai youth no longer believed farming was a viable or desirable form of employment, and this had led to a rise in urban migration. PFT members believed that, by providing job alternatives, they might ‘‘change attitudes toward work in the local area and oer alternative approaches to work’(Routes and Futures chart, n.d., p. 11). According to PFT members, the goals of the local careers project also included ‘‘to make people have faith in and care for [agricultural] production so that they can depend on themselves’(Routes and Futures chart, n.d., p. 11), and to help children ‘‘accept a way of life in line with social values and local culture that they will be proud of’(PFT Summary Report, June-August 1998, p. 5). PFT’s local careers project critiqued globalisation and responded to images perpetuated by some state actors and capitalists that portray the Thai agricultural and/or village lifestyle as ‘‘backward’or ‘‘behind the times’(Mills, 1999).

PFT members promoted sustainable subsistence agriculture and handicraft production as necessary steps towards economic self-reliance [pheung ton eng] and cultural pride. For example, PFT hired several village weavers to teach young girls to spin and weave cotton. Mae Somjit told girls that by learning to weave they could ‘‘help their mothers’’, contribute to the family’s income, and preserve Thai culture. Boys were excluded from PFT’s weaving activity because members assumed they would be uninterested in weaving since it is typically defined as an activity for women. In the north,

weaving is strongly associated with ‘‘womanly virtues’[Conway, 1992], and the production process itself is value-laden in terms of a woman’s or girl’s status in the village. The relationship between weaving and success as a wife is clearly recognised in traditional village societies, where young women known to possess the technical skills of weaving are prized as future brides . . .(Humphreys, 1999, p. 59).

One boy who expressed interest in learning weaving was initially ridiculed and accused of being a kathoey before being accepted into the group. A past PFT project for adult village women had demonstrated that by weaving on looms of their own, women could engage in productive work without leaving the home. Handicraft work enabled women to remain in the village while still earning cash for the family and fulfilling their reproductive and virtuous roles as housewives and mothers.18 This arrangement supported PFT membersassumptions about the role of women as good mothers and citizens, and the role of the family in preventing the spread of globalisation summed up in the PFT statement that ‘‘the warm family can prevent child prostitution’’19 (PFT Document, p. 11), ideas also promoted by the Committee for the Promotion of the Welfare of Women and the National Council on Women’s Aairs (Jerey, 2002, pp. 68–73, p. 135).

PFT’s construction of village women as good citizens, mothers and labourers perpetuates an existing village/national gender ideology while allowing it room to conform to the current economic needs of individuals and the nation at large.

Women are expected to be the transmitters of culture and national identity. However, the productive activities PFT members identify as appropriate for village women are limited. PFT’s condemnation of Western mass production and its negative eects on Thai communities entail privileging local ‘‘traditional’forms of production and discouraging youth from urban migration and factory work. By valorising local handicraft work, subsistence agriculture and animal breeding, PFT members explicitly critique capitalist development as manifested under successive national development plans, and stress the importance of self-reliance for local villagers and the nation. In the late 1990s, self-reliance became an essential marker of national dierence from other globalising nations. This idea was given force in 1997 in King Bhumipol’s birthday speech, in which he supported the notion of a self-sucient economy (Bhumipol, 1998). Hewison points out ‘‘self-suciency denotes a ‘moral economy’ . . . applied not just to the individual and family, but to the nation as a whole’(2000, p. 285). The irony is that Thailands nationalist assertion of self-reliance – meant to distinguish it from other nations and transnational ideologies – in fact conveniently meshed with the universalising neoliberal discourses of the IMF and World Bank in their structural adjustment plan for Thailand during the post-crash period. This increased burdens on women in the household as both economic providers and defenders of Thai culture.

Sexuality and Morality

The emphasis on Thai village practices extends beyond the economic and into the realms of sexuality and morality. As Jerey (2002) argues, it is village women who are so often held up as symbols of Thainess and the nation. In the case of PFT, this is represented through the discipline of young rural women’s bodies. PFT members identified new sexual behaviours among village youth that I mentioned above as evidence of globalisation’s ‘‘threat’to Thai culture.20

For clarification purposes, ‘‘sex’and ‘‘sexual’are defined here as erotic behaviour between two (or more) people as defined by those engaged in the practice. The meaning of sex is best understood within specific cultural, historical, moral and economic contexts. Hence, in the contexts of which I speak, sex is understood to be intimate behaviour between individuals of the opposite sex, especially intercourse. However, as PFT members talked about the sexual behaviour of Thai youth during PFT meetings and activities, the meaning of the term often expanded to include even kissing and touching. Therefore, ‘‘sex’must be seen as a contested concept within Thai society and especially within the context of NGO development work. It is also important to note that I focus primarily on heterosexual practices in relationship to national identity, since PFT members operated on the assumption of compulsory heterosexuality and any mention of homosexuality made them uncomfortable.21

As Mae Somjit told me on numerous occasions: ‘‘Old traditions and culture are changing with the adoption of Western culture which causes children to have sex before they should’(PFT Document, May 1998, p. 3). During one PFT seminar for youth leaders, member Udom asked teens to examine Thai newspapers for examples of current social problems. He pointed out that many farang saw Thailand as a ‘‘meuang sopheni’or ‘‘country of prostitutes’’, and even called on me, the resident farang, to validate this ‘‘fact’’. Udom’s discussion focused on how changes in behaviour could solve this image problem and improve Thailands reputation abroad, accentuating the link between women’s sexual behaviour and Thai culture. This scene was reminiscent of the Longman Dictionary incident in 1993 that had state ocials agitated over the suggestion that Bangkok, Thailands capital, was an immoral place where many Thai women engaged in prostitution (Wilson and Henley, 1994).

In order to prevent undesirable changes among Thai youth, PFT members aimed to re-form them into moral exemplars. This was done by controlling social and sexual interaction between young men and women and narrating moral tales to youth about the inappropriateness, physical danger and social unacceptability of premarital sex and prostitution. PFT members were scandalised, for example, when they discovered that during an overnight NGO activity for rural youth, a teenage boy and girl had been observed kissing and sneaking o together. Several people told me that this was exactly what they were working so hard to eliminate.

Another practice used by PFT members included telling village youth stories about prostitutes and the bad things that happen to them. Young people were shown a video entitled Sut Sai Ban (Fulfilling Your Potential) with this theme, and PFT members also utilised a storybook (created by an international NGO) called ‘Selling your daughter to the city[khai luksao khao meuang]. These stories highlight the dangers inherent in women’s transgression of spatial, moral and sexual boundaries. The first page reads (Figure 2) ‘‘Women sell their bodies to many men’’. The question on the back asks ‘‘Young women who sell their bodies must have many husbands of many tribes [phao], many nations. Is this good or not?’It is important to note that the images of men represented in this picture actually refer to


Figure 2. ‘‘Women sell their bodies to many men.’’

a range of nationalities and ethnicities (including ethnic minorities within Thailand), and that none seem to clearly signify ethnic Thai men. This raises the issue, discussed further below, that ethnic Thai men often disappear in discussions of the ‘‘prostitution problem’’.

The answer reads: ‘‘It’s not good because women who sell their bodies [khai tua] are likely to be looked down on. The villagers won’t accept them because it brings deterioration upon themselves, their parents, siblings and the village’’.22

Women’s unregulated sexual behaviour results in negative repercussions and heralds the ‘‘deterioration’of Thai society. Inevitably, the ‘‘bad girl’or ‘‘prostitute’must die (here of HIV/AIDS) for her moral and national transgressions. The ‘‘bad’woman or prostitute is considered promiscuous, her sexuality extending beyond the confines of the family, home and nation – for as the picture graphically illustrates, the prostitute must transgress national borders in her work, further emphasising the role of women’s bodies in national boundary maintenance. The ‘‘good’woman, on the other hand, controls her sexuality within the boundaries of the conjugal relationship and the nation, and satisfactorily fulfils her primary duties as mother, wife and daughter (Harrison, 1997). This construction of women’s sexuality evokes debates over the legal status of ‘‘wife’in the early twentieth century that depended on critical distinctions between ‘‘moral’and ‘‘immoral’women, where the latter referred to prostitutes as well as women who engaged in sexual relations with men without first registering or publicly ritualising the marriage (Loos, 2006, p. 149). According to Loos, ‘‘[o]nly moral women could be considered wives, who operated as a reflection of a properly bourgeois family and as a symbol of Siam as solidly modern and civilized. Wives served as the ideological glue holding together the modern Thai family as a microcosm for the nation’(2006, p. 136). On the other hand, ‘‘disreputable women had no place in the new ideology of family-nation [chat], but were by definition irredeemably outside its boundaries’(2006, p. 149).

Similar to the situation described by Loos, there is an elision in PFT membersdiscourse between sexual behaviour outside of marriage on the one hand, and prostitution on the other. The dominant ideology suggests that female sexuality is allowable only within the parameters of monogamous ‘‘marriage, wifehood, motherhood and domesticity – all forms of controlling women’s bodies’(Katrak, 1992, p. 396). Hence, all sexual behaviour engaged in by young women outside marriage gets defined as ‘‘prostitution’’. This has the eect of recasting women who may be exploring their emergent sexuality – and not exchanging sex for money – as immoral ‘‘prostitutes’and ‘‘whores’not t to participate in national belonging. This includes the behaviour of young college women that I mentioned above and female students who allegedly go to discos and then home with men for sexual relations. PFT and other NGO members I met insisted that these young women were engaging in ‘‘covert’or ‘‘clandestine prostitution’[aep sopheni]. However, I wonder if these young women may simply be engaging in temporary sexual relations as a way to explore their independence and agency in a rapidly changing society, and not participating in the exchange of sex for money. With the increasing globalisation of mass media, young women are learning that ‘‘being sexual is being modern’(Warunee, 2002, p. 164; Mills, 1999), and this creates havoc for ‘‘traditional’ideologies of gender and sexuality in contemporary Thailand. Fadzillah (2003), who has studied prostitution and sexual behaviour among Thai youth in Chiang Rai, has come to similar conclusions about the ways in which young female sexuality gets labelled by parents and grandparents who fear the breakdown of traditional sex and gender roles, and hierarchies of age and status (see also Mills, 1999).

The topic of agency raises additional questions in my analysis of PFT discourse and practice. How did village youth respond to PFT eorts? Did they acquiesce? Did they rebel? Because my research focused mainly on PFT members and their interactions with agents of development, funding organisations, state ocials and project targets, I paid less attention to young people’s responses to PFT ideologies and practices. However, village youth were not passive in this process. Despite PFT’s focus on ‘‘traditional’meuang culture and values, youth actively engaged with PFT projects and members, and derived their own meanings in the process. For example, many young people participated in PFT activities because they wanted to improve their English through the free classes taught by myself and my partner, at Mae Somjit’s request. While these classes were meant to be the proverbial carrot to get students involved in the local career groups, they did operate paradoxically to challenge PFT’s more conservative and nationalist messages, as our topics drew mainly from popular culture and media, and represented young people’s desire to be ‘‘up-to-date’and modern. Learning English oered students peer acceptance, influence, and pleasures associated with Western modernity. That students sought to resist PFT’s traditional messages was proven by their tendency to sneak o after class without attending the local career group meetings. The Routes and Futures Magazine, which was still in its initial stages when I completed fieldwork, was another venue through which village youth could express their own views on social problems, albeit under the editorial eye of Mae Somjit and other PFT members. Finally, as the example mentioned above demonstrates, young people were actively pursuing intimate relationships with one another, despite the negative messages put forth by the NGO. Like younger generations in many cultures, Thai youth were attracted to the foreign and modern in ways that both validated PFT membersfears and reinforced their eorts to ‘‘protect’Thai culture.

It is not insignificant, however, that for PFT members moral and sexual self-control was an issue only for young women, and not for young men. Boys and men remain an undeniable absence in PFT discourse and were numerically far less represented in PFT activities, despite the fact that PFT claims to assist all youth, and despite the fact that without men the market for prostitutes would largely disappear. PFT’s long-term practice of providing educational scholarships to young rural girls (since they lack access to free Buddhist education like boys) meant that PFT did have a pre-existing group of female youth readily available. However, I believe that PFT’s emphasis on female youth is more than simply practical. PFT memberstendency to focus on female behaviour reflects a hegemonic approach to prostitution and female sexuality as social problems that places responsibility on girls and women and supports the existing sex/gender system in Thailand, notwithstanding eorts by urban, middle-class feminists to implicate Thai men. Ultimately, boys and young men in PFT projects were allowed continued freedom to pursue their desires – sexual and otherwise – while the moral integrity of young women became a defining feature of both local and national ‘‘tradition’and national integrity. This gender-blind approach of PFT members reinforces a historically entrenched double standard for male and female sexual behaviour (Loos, 2006; Barme´ , 2002; Darunee and Pandey, 1987) and male dominance at the expense of female agency evident elsewhere in Thai society (Khin Thitsa, 1983; 1980) and Asia more broadly (Jolly, 2001, p. 15). Women should be modest, sexual only within the bonds of marriage, and keepers of Thai tradition to responsibly protect, represent and develop the nation. The discourses and practices of PFT and the national rhetoric that PFT relies upon and perpetuates reveal quite explicitly the ways in which women’s bodies symbolise national integrity and the boundaries of Thai culture. More importantly, PFT’s approach to the development of rural communities raises critical concerns about women’s claims to citizenship in the modern Thai nation.


This analysis of NGO discourse and practice demonstrates that gender, sexuality and nationalism in Thailand (and Siam) are familiar bedfellows whose relationships to one another deserve more critical and sustained attention by scholars. As the examples from PFT marshalled herein reveal, young women’s bodies were deployed as symbols of the moral goodness and ‘‘tradition’of Thai culture, and utilised vis-a` vis the negative figure of ‘‘the prostitute’as markers of cultural and national boundaries. By examining how gendered/sexualised dierence is made to represent national dierence in the development activities of a specific non-governmental organisation, it becomes impossible to ignore the gendered and sexualised nature of Thai nationalism, and the ways in which such ‘‘overt gendering’limits women’s agency and forms of national belonging, including ‘‘their rights as enfranchised citizens’(Kandiyoti, 1991, p. 429). Hence, this analysis raises critical questions about connections between nationalism, NGOs and civil society in Thailand, and their implications for Thai women’s citizenship and equal rights.

Both ‘‘civil society’and NGOs have captured the attention of scholars and activist intellectuals, including those studying Thailand, during the past twenty years.23 Connors (2003), for example, has skilfully analysed the changing NGO landscape in Thailand during the rise of civic politics based on local knowledge and wisdom in the 1980s and 1990s. He explores the complex and contradictory relationships that exist between NGOs and other political actors including state ocials and urban elites, as well as the common people. Yet studies of NGOs and civil society in the Thai context are largely plagued by a gender blindness that fails to address the masculinist character and embedded assumptions of these concepts/ social formations, and the ways in which they potentially marginalise women as well as ethnic, racial and religious minorities. This oppression emerges in numerous ways, including the gendered and sexualised nature of Thai nationalism as it intersects with hegemonic notions of development, and in particular organisations and projects focused on gender and development. PFT activities illustrate not only that development projects (and the groups that maintain them) may become vehicles for the circulation and perpetuation of conservative nationalist sentiments, but also that development work may generate forms of gendered and sexual subjectivities in line with the needs and goals of nation-states at particular historical moments. Here, a small, rural organisation that on the one hand sought to challenge hegemonic forms of economic development, globalisation and national identity ended up facilitating adaptation to neo-liberal economic arrangements and the maintenance of male privilege through the disciplining of female bodies and an emphasis on ‘‘local’culture. Humphreys observed a similar situation in the NGO/alternative trade organisation ThaiCraft, whose ‘‘conservative agenda’(1999, p. 58) ultimately reinforced gender stereotypes of women as passive, docile and lacking technical skills, thereby rendering them suitable for low-paid factory work in the new international division of labour (1999, p. 61). The contradictory realities of NGO activities in Thailand and elsewhere should garner more critical attention from activists and development workers, as well as from funding agencies that claim to empower women through gender and development projects. Do gender and development programs carried out by Thai NGOs truly benefit women, and if so, which women, how, and in what contexts? And what can NGOs working in Thailand and elsewhere learn from examples such as PFT as they negotiate the complex political field of gender, culture and power?

Another irony present in PFT’s work is that while PFT members readily voiced angst over a globalising modernity, they simultaneously embodied that modernity in their roles as developers [nakphathana] and community leaders [phunam chumchon] participating in the thoroughly modern, global social formation of the NGO. Participation in NGO work oered PFT members unique forms of power and prestige in the village context, especially middle-aged village women with relatively low levels of education and little access to political networks that have historically been the domain of men. By participating in NGO work, PFT members could pursue modern identities for themselves, including middle-class aspirations and desires for respect, seniority and prestige.24 PFT members asserted that they sacrificed [siasala] for the ‘‘common good’[suanruam], the ‘‘community’[chumchon] and the ‘‘nation’[chat]. However, these assertions rested upon a dichotomised view of NGO workers as ‘‘having knowledge’[mi khwarmru] and village youth (read female) as ‘‘lacking knowledge’[mai mi khwamru] and needing help and protection [tongkan pongkan, tongkan chuay]. This framework echoes how elite Thai women in the 1960s and 1970s constructed themselves as the ‘‘ultimate arbiters of tradition and cultural identity’(Jerey, 2002, p. 32). Jerey writes that ‘‘having established the peasantry and peasant women as symbols of national culture, this discourse silenced their political and social agency and their voices; however, it granted agency to the elite women who could guide peasant women into the modern era’(ibid). Consequently we must ask exactly who is being empowered in NGO development work and at whose expense? And what unwitting roles may NGOs and NGO workers play in perpetuating not only conservative but oppressive nationalist, cultural and economic ideologies?

Furthermore, what are the implications of Thailands gendered/sexualised nationalism for women’s citizenship in a supposedly democratic state? Can women be full citizens and members of society when they are asked to bear the symbolic burden of the nation’s reputation, sovereignty and dierence? As discussed above, Loosscholarship reveals Thai historical precedent for ‘‘cast[ing] women’s rights in terms of their familial and gendered positions’(2004, p. 176) as wives, mothers and daughters ‘‘rather than as autonomous citizens’(2006, p. 148). She demonstrates that while by the 1920s all Thai men (regardless of class, ethnicity or religion) were defined as individuals, as ‘‘the paradigm for the socially unencumbered legal subject imagined as the recipients of the modern legal codes, citizenship, and nationalist discourse’(2004, p. 151), women remained defined as outside the boundaries of citizenship. Examples from the organisation PFT demonstrate the cultural practice of a legally and discursively sanctioned definition of women that relies upon their symbolic value as opposed to their value and agency as fully enfranchised citizens. By seeking to re-form young village women as economically self-reliant and sexually restrained national subjects, PFT members actively moralise the behaviour and identity not only of rural Thai women, but of both Thailand and ‘‘the West’’. In linking Thai women to tradition, culture and respectability, rural women’s agency is constrained, while men’s agency is left relatively unchecked. Girls and women who fail to meet these cultural standards not of their own devising run the risk of being labelled ‘‘bad women’or ‘‘prostitutes’and therefore neither completely Thai nor entitled to the rights and responsibilities of Thai citizenship. If all women in Thailand are to truly have a stake in the nation and its emergent democratic approach to governance, and not function merely as symbols in its maintenance or defence, it is imperative that Thai activists and scholars committed to women’s equal rights and full civic participation interrogate, challenge and ultimately transform nationalist rhetoric and nationalist sentiments wherever and whenever they circulate.


I would like to thank Craig Reynolds and Geo White, as well as Maila Stivens and two anonymous ASR reviewers, for providing critical feedback. Portions of this essay have been presented at the following institutions and I thank those audiences for their comments: SUNY Bualo; Hollins University; University of Waikato, New Zealand; Australian National University; and Yale University. The ethnographic research upon which this essay is based was generously funded by the Fulbright Foundation, AAUW, the University of Hawai’i, Manoa, Soropotimist International, and the Pan-Pacific and Southeast Asian Women’s Association. A Luce Foundation Doctoral Fellowship in Southeast Asian Studies at the Australian National University allowed me to first explore these ideas in writing.


.                        1              Names of organisations and individuals used in this article are pseudonyms unless otherwise noted.

.                        2              In this article I use the terms ‘‘prostitute’’, ‘‘prostitution’and ‘‘child prostitution’rather than ‘‘sex worker’or ‘‘commercial sex work’when referring to the work of NGOs such as PFT. ‘‘Prostitute’[sopheni] and ‘‘prostitution’[kankaitua] were the terms most commonly used by the NGO members that I discuss here, and reveal the problematic discourses of morality and identity that I analyse. See Kempadoo (1998) for an extended critical discussion of these terms.

.                        3              The          other two include: as biological reproducers of members of ethnic collectivities; as participants in national, economic, political and military struggles. On the former see the edited collection by Jolly and Ram (2001).

.                        4              Important contributions include Jaturong and Gawin (1995), Humphreys (1999), Costa (2001), McCargo (2002), Delcore (2003), Shigetomi et al. (2004) and Missingham (2002; 2003; 2004). A broader discussion of the diverse field of Thai NGOs and their connection to Thai politics is beyond the scope of this article. See Connors (2003) and Gohlert (1991).

.                        5              The Thai word farang refers specifically to white Western/European ‘‘others’’.

.                        6              Maila Stivens (2002) describes a comparable situation in Malaysia. One key dierence between the cases of Thailand and Malaysia is the role of religion (i.e. Theravada Buddhism versus Islam) and the way it contributes to rhetoric about the (in)appropriate behaviour of youth.

.                        7              These are the actual names of these organisations.

.                        8              This is based on an exchange rate of 37 baht to one US dollar. Prior to Thailand’s economic crisis the standard exchange rate was 25 baht to one US dollar.

.                        9              POY and Routes and Futures Project are pseudonyms that seek to capture the meanings in the actual project names.

.                        10            This is POY’s English translation with minor grammatical changes.

.                        11            Although historically the word kathoey was applied to both men and women who crossed gender boundaries, today the word is typically used to describe a man who dresses and/or lives like a woman, and who prefers to have sex with gender-normative men. See Costa and Matzner (2007).

.                        12            Translations from Thai are mine unless otherwise noted.

.                        13            Reynolds (1991, p. 18) and Jerey (2002, Chapter 3) make the same point.

.                        14            Indigo blue mohom shirts often signify rural peasant culture, especially in the north. However, many civil servants in the north also wear these shirts to work and so they may doubly signify association with the Thai nation-state.

.                        15            Despite Mae Somjit’s village status, she was expert in handling visits from foreigners, as she had been doing so for many years.

.                        16            The northern-style clothing worn by female PFT members was more typical of the middle or upper class than the rural area, and reflected the trend I observed during local, regional and national women’s meetings where women wore (and compared) their best ‘‘traditional’clothing, calling to mind eorts by Queen Sirikit to promote local handicrafts including handmade Thai textiles. Jerey argues that the National Council of Women in Thailand (NCWT), in addressing the problem of prostitution, drew on the ‘‘powerful symbolism of the queen’who in her promotion of local handicrafts ‘‘fused’rural and national identity in opposition to ‘‘the foreign and urban’(2002, pp. 66–67).

.                        17            Jerey oers numerous examples including reference to a story by Suchit Wongthes in which a woman’s ‘‘looseness’and immorality are indicated by the stretch pants she wears (2002, p. 44).

.                        18            Humphreys argues that this practice, which she also observed in ThaiCraft, returns women to the patriarchal control of home and village (1999, p. 61).

.                        19            To the contrary, anthropologists argue that it is precisely devotion to parents [bun khun] and younger siblings that often compels young women to engage in prostitution in order to remit money home. See Wathinee and Guest (1994, p. 7), Pasuk (1982) and Muecke (1992).

.                        20            Many Thai people argue that ‘‘traditionally’          Thai culture values women’s virginity before marriage but not men’s. Northern Thai spirit practices concerning sexual relations between unmarried individuals provide some evidence for this argument. However, some scholars have argued that the moral loading of women’s virginity is an eect of middle-class ideologies of domesticity and motherhood in the context of twentieth-century capitalism. Whether particular sexual practices are ‘‘cultural’or not is in fact dependent upon specific historical and political contingencies.

.                        21            For           a discussion of ‘‘homosexual’practices in relation to Thai national crisis see Sinnott (2004).

.                                        22. The image and accompanying text call to mind a 1770s royal proclamation in the Three Seals Laws analysed by Loos that ‘‘prohibited Thai, Mon, and Lao women, but not men, from engaging in sexual relations with men who adhered to other religions’(2006, p. 36). In the decree, women should not have sexual relations with ‘‘khaek [could mean Muslims, Middle Easterners, and/or South Asians], French, British, khula [Thai Yai or Shan], or Malays’(2006,

.                                        p. 36). Similarly, Jerey cites a statement by student activists in the 1970s denouncing ‘‘‘hired wives’, prostitutes and half-breed children of all colours’(2002, p. 45). In both historical and contemporary periods, the purity and sexual behaviour of women is critical to preserving the status of women, their families and the nation.

.                        22            See work cited in footnote 4 as well as Reynolds (2001), Ratana (1999), Thirayut (1993).

.                        23            As mentioned above, Nerida Cook (1998) examines the intersections of class and gender in the work of several Thai women’s NGOs focusing on prostitution. Her descriptions of how some educated/middle-class women approached prostitution among rural (and by implication,


relatively uneducated and lower-class) women echo the discourses and practices of PFT members. Cook concludes that ‘‘Thai middle-class women depict themselves as the prostitutessaviours; as substitutes for the moral guardians a materialistic and venal world has failed to provide for young peasant women’(1998, p. 278).


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