Translation Politics
Villagers, NGOs and the Thai Forestry Sector Master Plan

by Larry Lohmann

first published 1 July 1993


How can environmental conflicts be settled? Adopting procedures to achieve consensus or resolve conflicts may not be possible because procedures which all sides agree upon may not exist. Instead, actors attempt, on the one hand, to attempt to make forums or systems of thought which must be publicly adhered to by the powerful more friendly to their purposes and interests. That means acquiescing to translations of their concerns and suggestions into these forums, systems or languages while trying to influence those translations as best they can.

On the other hand, actors also attempt to make their friendly systems or forums more powerful or extend their scope. This involves the reverse strategy: translating alien actions and concepts into systems of thought which will domesticate them and shade out unfriendly elements. This “translation” view of environmental conflict is illustrated by disputes over a forestry master plan formulated for Thailand by Finnish consultants and others.




Thanks to Wirawat Theeraprasat, Chatchawan Thongdeelert, Srisuwan Kuankachorn, Prompana Kuaicharoen, Pisit Chansanaw, Nualnoi Thammasathien, Nikhom Boonserm, Montri Chanthawong, Tariq Banuri, Pam Simmons, Grainne Ryder, Dave Hubbel, villagers visited during March 1993, and especially Witoon Permpongsacharoen.


Who are you neutral against?

Mark Twain


Over the past century and a half, the views of Bangkok elites regarding the relative scarcity of forest land and rural people have, in a sense, reversed themselves. To the kingdom's early 19th century rulers, preoccupied with mobilizing soldiers, taxes and corvee labor and with maintaining or extending agriculture and administrative control outside the capital, there seemed to be a decided shortage of people and a decided oversupply of forests. The latter not only provided disgruntled subjects with an escape hatch whose availability increased their bargaining power, but also supplied autonomous nobles in the North of the country with an independent source of foreign income.

To augment their power and undercut that of their subjects, Bangkok rulers accordingly followed several strategies. They continued to import subject-slaves from neighboring lands and to push directly and indirectly pronatalist policies. In the late 19th century, they used the establishment of the Royal Forest Department under a British director as a way of wresting control of teak forests from Northern nobles, and indeed as a way of claiming all forest lands for the king, thus consolidating central power and providing themselves with a new source of export income. Making the best of trade concessions forced on them in 1855 by the British, elites meanwhile also pioneered the clearing of new export ricelands in the Central region, later cooperating with colonial powers in extending infrastructure and thus centralized control.

By the turn of the century, these moves had already contributed to a decline in property rights in people (signaled by the gradual abolition of slavery) and an emergence of modern property rights in land (marked not only by state annexation of forests but also by the first state protection for agricultural land rights). Trends toward centralization and growing integration into the world economy continued through the shifts in the composition of the ruling elite following the demise of the absolute monarchy in 1932. These trends were intensified sharply by the influence of US and World Bank war and development policies from the 1950s through the early 1980s. Land leased or leasable by the state to logging firms (increasingly domestic now) covered 13 per cent of the country in 1953 and 50 per cent by 1968, following expansion of government holdings of forest land in accordance with foreign recommendations. Farmers and business were encouraged to clear forests for export agriculture, often along logging, dam-construction or "strategic" roads, in the process both amassing wealth for bureaucratic and increasingly-powerful commercial interests and driving back political frontiers against dissidents, refugees, and communists.

Today, partly as a result of elites' own actions, the situation has changed to such an extent that elite perceptions have reversed. It is now people (particularly the rural poor) who are regarded as expendable, while forests are seen as scarce. As frontier refuges have been removed, administration extended, and farmers made increasingly dependent on a centrally-controlled economy, dominant groups' need to accommodate rural people has been reduced -- an advantage cemented by the decline in the importance of upland crops in the country's export profile. More recently, the recasting of areas planted to these upland crops as a substrate for non-labor-intensive eucalyptus plantations for export, tourist resorts, or water catchment areas for cities -- due partly to improved access and shifts in the global economy, and the expansion of the industrial sector -- has begun to make many farmers a positive nuisance to elites. Adding to the nuisance value has been the fact that logging, watershed destruction, river pollution and the like have encroached on rural sources of livelihood while providing less and less compensation to such an extent that what in the West would be called "anti-development" movements have sprung up across the countryside. With increasing urban competition for rural land and water, accompanied by growing land speculation, it is no surprise that plans formulated by the World Bank and the National Economic and Social Development Board (a World-Bank-initiated body responsible for Thailand's five-year plans) call for the numbers of those dependent on a rural income to be reduced from 60 to 40 per cent over the next decade. Nor is it a surprise that after midcentury, pronatalist policies were abruptly reversed as "population control" programs were formulated, again under foreign prodding.

The opening up of the country to industrial investment and foreign and urban "demand" for timber and agricultural goods has meanwhile resulted in a precipitous decline in forest cover. Prior to World War II, the country was perhaps two-thirds forested, today perhaps 15 per cent. Between 1961 and 1985 alone, at least a quarter of the country's land area was stripped of trees. One result is that, as cleared land newly accessible to foreign and domestic plantation, tourism and industrial interests has surged in economic value, forests are increasingly seen by elites as sources of ecological value and insurance. In both cases this entails concentration of land in nonlocal hands: cleared land goes to big business, while forested land is fenced off by the state. Deforestation continues through this process of elite reversal of valuation. Just as pushing peasants onto forest land helped destroy it, so too does pushing them off it, since they have few places to go but forests elsewhere. The more that centralized control brings forest land under the rule of world market demand and state conservation efforts, the less of a place there is for customary stewardship.


The conflicts over the Thai Forestry Sector Master Plan (TFSMP) formulated over the past five years reflect many of the new power relations connected with Thai forest land, and offer an interesting contemporary comparison to the British-Thai forest colonialism of the 1890s and after.

The initial move toward the TFSMP was the combined vector of two international forces and sets of interests connected with the new perception of scarcity of both forests and newly-cleared forest land. Providing a general umbrella was the Tropical Forestry (later Forest) Action Plan (TFAP). The TFAP had originated in an early 1980s conversation in a Washington bar between the prominent World Bank forester John Spears and a colleague, who were brainstorming ways of getting more international development funding for professional forestry consultants in the new atmosphere of concern for tropical forestry conservation.1 As developed by the World Bank, FAO, UNDP, and the World Resources Institute (a think tank set up by former Carter-administration bureaucrats partly as a place to sit out the Reagan administration), TFAP became an international coordination mechanism devoted to increasing investment in forestry in tropical forest countries, ostensibly as a way of addressing the tropical forest crisis. The plan encourages individual tropical forest countries to get together with donor agencies such as CIDA, the World Bank, or FINNIDA in setting up a mission to review the forest situation in the country. This followed by formulation of a national forestry plan whose components can then attract funding from various international or bilateral agencies. Most tropical forest countries are currently involved in one stage or another of the TFAP process.2

A second force and set of interests behind the TFSMP was the consultancy business of Jaakko Poyry Oy, the largest logging, pulp mill and plantation consulting firm in the world and active in commercial forest exploitation in dozens of countries.3 In 1985-6, Jouko Virta, President of Poyry's Consulting Division, eager to expand the Division's arena of operation into Southeast Asia, found himself unable to make inroads into the highly personalized Thai government system. Virta had sent a Poyry representative to a Thai Board of Investment seminar in early 1986 to try to generate interest in a plan for setting up tree plantations and pulp mills in Thailand, but this had netted no results, in spite of the 1985 promulgation of a new forestry policy focussing on industrial commercial plantations under the leadership of Deputy Prime Minister Bhichai Rattakul, whose family had a background in the timber business.

Virta's luck began to turn when, in Kathmandu, he came across a Swiss named Nat Inthakan who had been living in Thailand for several decades, had Thai nationality, and an intimate knowledge of the local timber industry. Nat told Virta that he would personally escort him to Thailand to arrange meetings with some of the key players in forest politics. Introductions followed to Snoh Unakul, a businessman and Secretary General of the National Economic and Social Development Board; General Harn Leenanonda, then Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives, which had jurisdiction over the Royal Forest Department (RFD); and Phairote Suwannakorn, Deputy Director of the RFD. Virta wrote up terms of reference for a master plan to present to this select group -- terms, according to Virta, very similar to those eventually adopted in 1989.4 In 1988, then Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda was briefed on the Master Plan by Nat, by then acting as representative of Poyry in Bangkok. Prem then visited Finland and signed an agreement whereby FINNIDA would fund a Thai master plan along TFAP lines, though without having consulting most of the government agencies connected with forests. The World Resources Institute was meanwhile already lobbying Thai non-government organizations (NGOs) behind the scene to try to line up their participation in the plan.

Since FINNIDA lacked credibility in Thailand, the task of being the nominal "lead" agency in the Thai plan was passed to UNDP.5 UNDP then examined the bids of the only forestry consultant companies contending for the contract, Poyry and Silvestria. Poyry, not unexpectedly, was selected. UNDP involvement turned out to have an additional bonus in that it transformed the Poyry consultants into sub-contractors, making their already very large salaries, which constituted much of the plan's budget, tax-free. Rauno Laitalainen, who had been in charge of a master-plan team in Nepal, duly arrived in Bangkok in July 1990.

Grasping quickly that local forest politics were "extremely complex", Laitalainen was soon quoted as saying "If I were smart I would give up now because there are so many different factions involved."6 It is easy to understand his dismay. Whereas British forest colonialists of the 1890s had only recalcitrant villagers, local nobles, and the king and his entourage to deal with, politically important actors with an interest in forest land at the time of the advent of the TFSMP included, in addition to local villagers defending forest commons and private agricultural plots and pastures, the RFD and its parent Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives; the agricultural university with its school of forestry; Democrat and other political parties tied to timber interests; the Ministry of Interior, which until 1986 had continued to register villages illegally occupying state reserve forest land; the Army, which had both security and business interests in the forests; other military and paramilitary groupings; local officials and mafia; the Agricultural Land Reform Office; the Forestry Industry Organization; the Crown Property Bureau; shrimp farmers; the Board of Investment, which grants privileges and subsidies to foreign firms; domestic firms interested in investing in eucalyptus or, indirectly through eucalyptus, in land; transnational paper and pulp corporations based in Japan and Europe looking for raw material production opportunities for their own country's markets or those of others; forestry consulting firms; researchers in tree genetics; forestry advisers and academics; international NGOs interested in global forest management; multilateral agencies; bilateral agencies; and Thai NGOs.

Given this complex set of interests, Laitalainen could hardly use the TFSMP merely to push plans for promoting more pulp and paper mills and tree plantations on the Thai bureaucracy -- however much planning and designing such industrial projects was Jaakko Poyry's "bread and butter", in the words of its owner, Henrik Ehrnrooth. The Terms of Reference for the TFSMP, largely geared toward promotion of plantations and other forest industrial programs, had already come under scathing attack by NGOs by the time of Laitalainen's arrival. At an August 1990 meeting, 205 rural NGOs resolved not to participate unless the government removed fundamental defects in policy guidelines. Formulating the TFSMP under existing forestry policy and TFAP, the senior NGO representative Professor Saneh Chamarik stressed, could only reinforce their defects. PER said in letter to the Finnish ambassador in Bangkok that the plan should be suspended until all parties agreed on basic guidelines. When these points were ignored, NGOs organized another meeting in February 1991 shortly after the TFSMP was officially inaugurated. There the plan's poor analysis of the causes of deforestation (reflecting a common industrialist position blaming ordinary villagers), advocacy of reconsideration of the logging ban, and lack of attention to popular participation were lambasted so thoroughly that Laitalainen was forced to agree to sign a statement detailing six recommendations for revision of the TFSMP.

NGOs, however, were hardly the only, or even the main, obstacles to TFSMP progress. The planning division at RFD at first refused to work with Poyry, having had prior experience with FAO and UNDP and aware of the controversy over TFAP. As TFSMP personnel themselves frankly confessed, most master plans are at the outset opposed by a large majority of forest experts and bureaucrats in the countries in which they are undertaken, and much of the work of foreign consultants consists in gradually reducing this resistance.7

Laitalainen and his team accordingly began to devote time to learning the political ropes, lobbying, making elite alliances, seeking compromises, mollifying malcontents, and lining up potential supporters for a plan many of whose details would be left for the future. The TFSMP's ability to hire consultants soon began to attract Thai forestry faculty. And, knowing that the more participants he brought in on the side of the plan, the easier it would be to accuse others of "marginality" and "obstructionism" and to hide behind the authorities, Laitalainen went out of his way to make the TFSMP seem capable of answering the needs of all actors in the Thai forest drama. When speaking with RFD, he suggested that TFSMP could help increase the country's forested area and wood industries. When speaking with business, he stressed the need for the government to subsidize private investment in plantations through provision of land and other necessities; by 1993 the President of the Association of Thai Pulp and Paper Industries was referring to the TFSMP in his efforts to press the Deputy Minister of Agriculture for more land for plantations under a "land reform" program. When speaking with NGOs, he praised grassroots efforts to conserve forest and stressed the need for land reform and grassroots benefits from the plan.8

Adapting effectively to the need to placate such a wide range of actors while pushing Jaakko Poyry's interests meant that the TFSMP team, rather than presenting itself as a mere "technical" appendage to a unified body of forward-looking policymakers, was forced to transform itself into a self-consciously political agency and broker. Instead of talking about himself merely as a provider of "facts", Laitalainen started promoting himself also as a facilitator of a "national vision" about the forests which could represent an effective compromise among all parties with interests in them. Accordingly, TFSMP took on the overtly political role of pushing for a new forest policy, reflecting trends in foreign aid" elsewhere. Laitalainen's own consciousness of the limitations of such attempts at compromise, however, were reflected in his need to resort to more or less blatant double-dealings of various kinds: for example, breaking his promise to sign the six recommendations coming out of the February 1991 meeting;9 presenting the Local Development Institute as supporting the TFSMP when it had done no such thing; leaving mangrove issues out of the TFSMP after having assured local groups of his interest; and countenancing a smear of the conservationist monk Phra Prajak Kuttajitto in the pages of a Jaakko Poyry publication after having praised his activities while on a visit to his locality.10


The struggles involving the TFSMP, like most others, are not fought within a single language, forum, or system of thought and action. The field which shapes and defines them consists, rather, of a number of vocabularies, languages, language-games, sets of basic assumptions, moral systems or moral economies (including dispositions to different kinds of moral outrage), disciplines, ethnicities, different ways of conversing among members of different groups, methods of interpretation, ways of creating or dealing with differences, styles of achieving solidarity, social and physical spaces, national public forums, institutions, media and so on. These forums and systems of thought -- and their differences -- are in turn shaped largely by these very struggles, which form part of the context of their evolution. What they are and what they become depends on who is talking, formulating their rules, questioning their assumptions, engaging or colliding with them, drawing out their implications and filling in their histories.

Conflicts shaped by such a field are not necessarily settlable according to consensus-achieving or conflict-resolution procedures agreed upon by all sides, since these may not exist. Nor, in such cases, can such procedures be provided by translation, since to translate is to use a familiar system of thought, thus to rely only on familiar procedures.11 In such cases the end of a conflict is not reached by mutual agreement in a neutral forum. Rather, the conflict, if it ends at all, is set aside (temporarily or permanently) by, roughly speaking, one side's adopting the system of thought the other is using while dropping (temporarily or permanently) its own; or by both sides' adopting a new, third system of thought. The word "adopting", of course, here conceals what may be extremely complex processes of inter-system evolution and negotiation.

Translation, despite its inability in such cases to create "neutral" inter-system matrices, is indispensable to acting effectively in a multi-system field. On the one hand actors attempt to use forums or systems of thought which must be publicly adhered to by the powerful, and make them friendlier to their purposes and interests. That means acquiescing in translations of their concerns and suggestions into these forums, systems or languages while trying to influence those translations as best they can ("voice"). This can be looked at either as infiltration of these systems and choosing or manipulating their symbols to open up opportunities (even for those who do not use the systems), or simply as actions which take into account their own appearance when translated into powerful systems' terms.12 On the other hand, actors attempt to use friendly systems or forums and make them more powerful or extend their scope. This involves the reverse strategy: translating alien actions and concepts into systems of thought which will domesticate them and shade out unfriendly elements. This helps to expand or maintain those systems' influence and also to rally the troops who use them. At the same time, attempts are made to inveigle users of other systems into entering into these translations.

The first strategy is more likely to be used, in public, at least, by groups too weak to insist on open intergroup use of less ambiguously advantageous forums or translations of events. Thus Thai villagers often attempt to advance their interests and thwart or redirect those of others by tying their actions to (for example) Buddhist rituals, "environmentalist" fashions, the saving of hostile elites' "face", democratic ideals, "development", and so on. Officials or corporations who cut trees which have been visibly "ordained" (buat) or have been the subject of sueb chataa (life-extending) rituals for them as part of popular movements against logging in Chiang Mai, Nan, Buriram, Trad, and elsewhere undermine their own moral authority as Buddhists and risk moral outrage directed against themselves. Military assaults on Phra Prajak Kutajitto have meanwhile generated enormous indignation and controversy. Similarly, it is open to villagers to take advantage of interest shown by urban conservationists in the rare pine forests of Wat Chan in Chiang Mai, making it more difficult for the Forest Industry Organization and Jaakko Poyry to pursue their logging project there. Using a related strategy, villagers in the Kaeng Sua Ten area of Phrae have turned in logging equipment to the authorities in order to preempt the claim of dam-builders that the dam should be built because local Yom river watershed "is being destroyed anyway". Here, as elsewhere, villagers are hardly to be imagined as born-again environmentalists in the urban, university-educated mode. Rather, they recognize that the actions of conservationists, students and even police have resulted in a new consensus of environmentalism and seek to be represented within this consensus. To pass up this opportunity by continuing to log would undermine their moral authority in the eyes of others. No one in Bangkok would be outraged if they were flooded off their land; while if they do stop logging people may be as outraged at the loss of "conservationists" as of that of forest. That in turn will lend credit to other actions they may need to take in the future, such as demonstrations, seizures of district offices, road blockades and so forth. The representation of villagers, in dominant systems of thought, as "conservationists" serving the conceptual and material needs of outsiders (elites, the middle class, English speakers or Westerners) has the potential of itself becoming a resource villagers can exploit to build up their power in their localities; villagers themselves are well aware of such possibilities of "Orientalizing the Orientalists". Opponents of the Nam Choan dam, similarly, allowed top technocrats to save face by acquiescing in the technocrats' interpretation of the dam's defeat as having been caused, not by political pressure, but by an unfavourable outcome of cost-benefit analysis.

The second strategy, by contrast, is more likely to be used in public by stronger groups who can afford to insist in public on their own translations or forums. (It is also, of course, used by weaker groups when they are on what James C. Scott calls "protected sites".13) TFSMP proponents, for example, are prone to make the extremely radical claim that the TFSMP framework provides a forum (physical, political and cultural) which renders interforum thought, politics and resistance on forests obsolete, to be replaced by cooperation within the forum and language TFSMP provides. All important conflicts can be resolved and consensus attained, they imply, through approaches which are already in, or can be developed from, the system; hence it is to the advantage of all sides to use it. At the same time, TFSMP proponents resist the translation of their own statements and other actions into the languages and forums which NGOs and villagers are more likely to use. Not even drafts of new forest policies by NGOs are considered if not put forward in a TFSMP context.14

Nevertheless, when it is necessary and possible, weaker groups are only too willing to contest openly the rules of engagement proposed by their antagonists, to dictate the forum or system of thought to be used, or to change the subject when asked a question in a language which disadvantages them. The Pak Chong negotiations between villagers and the government which led to the cancellation of the khor jor kor NRF eviction program in July 1992 of one example. There, in the special circumstances created by the recent victories of the democratic movement in May, non-government organizations and villagers chose the meeting room, demanded to be represented in numbers equal to those of government representatives, and flouted the rules for encounters with "big people" or phuu yai by regularly ferrying tapes of the proceedings out to waiting villagers so they could monitor the progress of the meeting. To participate at all, the top officials present had no choice but to conduct themselves within the system of thought the villagers chose to use at the time.

Dominant groups, of course, are usually quick to attempt to retranslate such successes, as well as statements of resistance to translation, into a language more favorable to their interests, sometimes with the collaboration of opponents concerned not to cause them to lose face. Recent years have seen international and national development agencies, often under the influence of non-governmental organizations, adopt words such as "participation", "accountability", "appropriate local techniques", "alternative plans", "process", even "commons", and the drafters of the TFSMP have hardly been lax on this account. All of these can be viewed as attempts to translate pressures from orality-oriented local grassroots into a written, abstract, algorithmic form friendly to central authorities, and to invite dissident groups to acquiesce in this translation. Even after these terms enter centralizers' language, of course, the way remains open for villagers and commoners to contest their meaning and at the same time to try to take advantage of the centralizers' meanings as best they can to direct the debate back toward local power. And so the process continues.

The translation of actions or statements framed in one system or location (say, village ways of life) into another system or location (say, economics or science or planning jargon) is, in sum, typically merely the beginning of a convoluted political dialectic. Resistance to this translation is customarily characterized by the translators as illegitimate, being based on a "misunderstanding" of the terms of translation. This accusation of ignorance usually fails to impress the translatees, who, knowing very well what is at stake and where their interests lie, dig in their heels with further protests and changings of the subject back to what they want to talk about. At this point, outside intellectuals sympathetic to one or another side may get into the act, attempting to "ground" this resistance by insisting that certain things "cannot" be translated into others, that certain translations are "category mistakes",15 and that the attempted translations "go beyond the limits" of economics or science (or village life). The amused translators, echoing W. V. O. Quine,16 then point out that the outside intellectuals' accreditation as semantic traffic police is not universally recognized, noting further that anything can be, and often is, translated into anything else. Translator and translatee then return to the rough and tumble of practical translation politics, where the real-life consequences of translation are worked out.

A different role for outside intellectuals in this politics might perhaps be simply to try to retell, without any attempt at epistemology, the story of, say, the TFSMP's adventures in Thailand in a way detailed enough to suggest to TFSMP proponents, as well as others, that resistance to translation by dominant interests is not very plausibly interpreted as being based on a "misunderstanding". Such a story would not imply a priori that TFSMP promoters cannot some day come up with a better story which suggests the opposite. But it would challenge them to do so. The beginnings of such a story are sketched in the sections below.

The picture of translation politics I have outlined implies that political actors, particularly weaker ones, tend more or less self-consciously to have their fingers in a lot of forums and systems of thought.17 Yet if it is to an interest group's advantage to insist on its own translations of events in some circumstances and to participate in them under the translations of others in other circumstances, or to attempt to shrink the influence of alien systems of thought while in the meantime using them for its own purposes, it can hardly conveniently do all in its own name at the same time. Needing the appearance of sincerity, the interest group cannot easily claim openly to accept both its "own" and an opposing system of thought. Credible when speaking as an occupant of a particular role in society, it cannot plausibly and safely speak as if it occupied all roles. Hence the need, especially among weaker groups, for a strategic consciousness of and respect for different forums and systems of thought. Strategy permeates identity. Systems of thought and their interaction have a role not only in the articulation, but also in the process, of (say) master-planning, resistance and counter-resistance; and vice versa. Indeed, articulation of resistance is parasitic or dependent on process and on collision of systems.

All this is to leave behind what Dean MacCannell calls the "White Culture" idea that politics can or should be housed in a single forum or language. It is also to leave behind the opposing "traditionalist" idea that resistance flows outward from an isolated cultural identity or "tradition" which predates or floats free from intercultural space and time. Resistance to translation of a thought or action into a different system or forum does not entail the claim that "this system or forum of thought or action is permanently central to my identity". It can be interpreted merely as one way of saying "having my thought or action framed in this way, or as occupying this forum, is important or useful to me at this time".18 Strategic dichotomies between "cooperation" and "noncooperation", or between "cooptation" and "rebellion", tend to be oversimple. This is not to suggest that certain systems of thought cannot usefully be considered the "home systems", "native languages" or "final vocabularies"19 of particular interest groups. But these phrases should be interpreted only to mean that these groups find it provisionally or in the course of certain struggles easier or more useful or fulfilling or complete or pleasing to strategize in these systems than others, or are more accustomed to thinking in them when among friends on a "protected site", or use them more often than others. In this way we can avoid, if we want, the dangerous reflex of identifying groups as, for example, "traditional" or "modern".


What are some of the main systems of thought involved in the struggle over the TFSMP? How do they translate each other, what are the consequences of translation, and how are the translation/power struggles fought? Contrasting some of the systems of thought involved, though of course in fragmented, translated and static form, may say something about the resistance to assimilation involved, and the response to that resistance.

Considered as ideal types, the "home" systems of thought of Thai villagers and Jaakko Poyry consultants (in the sense of "home" above) are easy to contrast by noting their positions on different ends of three interlinked axes.

i) A commons - public/private axis

The commons - public/private axis features at one end a form of social organization which rests much authority over land, water, agriculture, and forests (as well as time, law, language and personhood) with the local community and the institutions and discourses it has created.20 This is the form of organization that appears in such widespread rural institutions as Northern Thailand's traditional muang faai rice irrigation/forest conservation system, community forests of various kinds (paa puu taa, paa chaa, paa chai soi, paa chum chon) and communal pasturage in fallow rice fields.21 It is a framework which can also allow or promote what may look from the outside to be "individual ownership" (for example, informal jap jong land tenure) or "free" extra-community use of, say, local pastures, although these forms of use are also ultimately community-sanctioned. Finally, this framework allows for alliances and conventions with other communities in drawing boundaries between the rights of neighboring communities, as with meetings between muang faai groups in the same watershed or between villages with neighboring community forests.

This form of social organization tends to bring with it a strong felt connection among morality, knowledge and locality. Locals are likely to be wary about addressing nonlocal issues and about assuming interchangeability among communities;22 at the same time, outsiders may initially find the local social order opaque. Community ends or goals are likely to be concrete and locally-specific, with weight often given to subsistence security and local values over economic gain and political rights. Villagers who may not be unduly exercised at witnessing gross violations of national law may be galvanized into immediate mass protests by the bulldozing of a tiny local shrine to make way for dam construction or the barring of a child from grazing a family buffalo in a local woodland. If the means necessary for achieving a concrete social end turn out to be unacceptable or unavailable, the end is likely to be revised through consensus. Individual preferences and goals are also kept in line with available local means through social interaction. In short, this social order might be called topian, or situated (as opposed to utopian, or pertaining to no-where, in the original sense of the word, or extra-topian, based elsewhere).

Local commons regimes can be recognized in, but not replaced by, state law and administration. Land documentation supplementing jap jong rights, as well as state certification of a community's right to manage its own forest, are usually welcomed by locals.23 Nor are commoners hostile to state laws protecting their commons from outside predation; indeed, they are often far more zealous than government officials in enforcing them. But internal interference which would remove the authority of the community over its commons and place it in some extra-community organization is often resisted. Similarly for advice and expertise; as one Sakon Nakhorn village leader puts it, "Ideas from outside are useful, but we'll decide which ones to act on, since it's our struggle."

At the other end of the commons - public/private axis are forms of social organization associated with state administration and conceptualization of land, water, time, language and personhood. This form of social organization finds a natural home in offices, ministries, universities, schools, laboratories, airplanes, and private urban homes. It places authority over what it calls "resources" in such locations through the construction of nationwide or worldwide webs of science, economics, utilitarian ethics and "private citizenship", and often attempts to usurp the craftsperson's knowledge into that "knowledge about knowledge" which Peter Drucker associates with management.24 Its products include not only large-scale "socially-beneficial" projects such as hydroelectric dams, land zoning schemes, national parks and giant plantations, but also minor irrigation schemes, agricultural extension programmes, and the like.

This type of social order tends to reduce local communities to locations on a global or national grid by using decontextualizing devices such as quantification to isolate and highlight common or interchangeable elements, or by elevating "national and global requirements" into an unquestioned position of moral superiority. This enables the construction of "locality-neutral", manager- or traveler-friendly manuals or encyclopedias; facilitates progressive, linear, "inclined-plane" notions of history and "development";25 and facilitates practices of speaking for members of alien communities -- all of which further strengthen the position of central authorities. The resulting morality and knowledge are detached from particular village localities yet legitimized for use in discussing them. A letter from Jaakko Poyry's Laitalainen to Witoon Permpongsacharoen, dated 5 August 1992, expresses beautifully the underlying attitude:

"It is true that the initiative to prepare a TFSMP for the forestry sector in Thailand at least partly came from Finland. Important, however, is that the initiative comes from somewhere instead of from nowhere. Once started the process can be monitored and corrected continuously by national authorities and other development partners; you and your organization included.... Involvement of foreigners ... brings both positive and negative elements to the work. On the positive side there is an opportunity to see the entire network of problems through non-biased and neutral eyes. It gives a chance to obtain input from all the parties which have different opinions and to bring together those which for traditional or cultural reasons have felt uneasy about approaching each other before".

Within this social order, neither social nor individual ends are locally-specific. Social ends take the form of abstractions such as "national interest", "development", "satisfaction of projected aggregate world pulp demand", "increasing per capita timber consumption" and "high per capita use of toilet paper", all of which can be treated as sharable among groups, facilitating preference aggregation, cost-benefit analysis, forced migrations, large, wasteful electricity and trade grids, subsidization and the accompanying closing out of alternatives, and centralization generally. Individual ends take the form of the abstract, infinitely-increasing needs of neoclassical economic theory. Both are resistant to revision, even in office settings. National planning institutions focused on efficient means presuppose fixed social ends or, failing that, uniform conflict-resolving or consensus-attaining mechanisms, and a sharp divide between theory and practice; continual adjustment of ends and means and theory and practice to each other would threaten their enterprise. In parallel fashion, neoclassical theorizing about maximizing individuals -- together with welfare and environmental economics -- requires the postulation of fixed, private individual "preferences". Politics becomes market bargaining.26 The type of state power over land which is championed in the TFSMP, including the power to evict Karen and other groups from protected areas, becomes normal.

As MacCannell notes, some of "the sharpest conflicts occur over attempts to universalize [the] principles [that] control of the land by the state and/or private parties has precedence over any collective territorial rights based on traditional use".27 Thus the reservation of forests and national parks in forests previously used as paa chai soi (generally a sort of proto-commons) or as full-fledged forest commons is often regarded as absurd by the ordinary villagers no longer allowed legal access to them. For these villagers, there are two categories of land: that used for family farms, and forest commons (with possible additional categories of royal land or land under the control of naai or lord-like outsiders). The introduction of a third category of public but unusable land is difficult to accept. Partly this is connected with the absence of concepts or practices demarcating public space. But villagers' puzzlement and outrage is compounded when the demarcation of NRFs is followed by encroachment of private companies on the land just declared "public". It is hardly surprising when the end result is a free-for-all zone looted by both marginalized peasants and business.

The contrast appears even more clearly in the response of a villager from Baan Wat Chan in Chiang Mai to an attempt by a Jaakko Poyry consultant to translate local concerns into his conceptions of property, and then to invite the villager to partake of them. A Poyry consultant put three hypothetical choices to the villager concerning the disposition of the area's pine forests, scheduled for logging by the Forestry Industry Organization (under a Poyry plan) to feed a local sawmill. First, individual families could be assigned rights to separate small forest plots to manage as they wished. Second, sub-district (tambon) or district-level officials could oversee the harvesting of larger areas. Third, management rights to larger areas could be granted to communities. The villager rejected all three alternatives. He gave three reasons. First, he objected to the manner in which the choice was put to him. If such matters were to be discussed and considered, they could only be discussed and considered as a community, not through approaches to separate individuals or "preference polling". Second, the villager said that each alternative would lead to destruction of the forest on which the villagers depended for water and other goods. Putting the forest in the hands of discrete individuals, he explained, would destroy the community and thus the forest. Putting the forest in the hands of government officials would lead to power imbalances, corruption, and again the destruction of the forest. Putting the forest in the hands of the community would create the most chances for checks and balances which could save the forest, he said, but would lead to inter-community conflict and in any case could not succeed on the assumption that the forest was to be managed for the sawmill. The way to preserve the forest, the villager maintained, was to leave it defined by the local people's customary relationship to it. Now it is possible, of course, for foresters or economists to retort that this villager's response was based on a "misunderstanding" of the language of property rights and economics used by the Poyry consultant. But given the details of the response, it would be difficult to make such a story credible.28

Despite such experiences of conflict, the notion of forest commons remains quite unreal to the TFSMP planners. The existence of hundreds of working community forests throughout Thailand, for example, is not mentioned under the "current realities" section of the second draft national forest policy spearheaded by TFSMP. And in general, Westerners and Thais who hold to a public/private dichotomy in the use of land, water and air tend to view commons regimes as "management disorder" or "open access", commons themselves as "waste" or "underexploited or inefficiently used resources", orality as "ignorance" or "lack of data", and a heavy reliance on personal relations as "corruptibility" and "anarchy".29 In their language, a proposal such as that recently put forward by Poyry, that a "mere five per cent" of Thailand's land area be devoted to eucalyptus plantations to meet an unmarked and disembodied "demand" appears morally reasonable, while a peasant's plea for five rai to do what she wants with lacks any moral force because it may interfere with the "national interest".

Commoners counter such moves, at the very least while operating within their own system of thought, by identifying public/private hegemony over land and water, as well as many government documents, as a cover for plunder, a betrayal of morality, a flouting of common sense, and an interference with rights to place. A village head in Lampoon province, for example, identifies political and bureaucratic leaders' lack of silatham and chawptham, as well as violations of jariit prapheenii (particularly in the sexual realm) by ordinary people, as behind lack of rainfall, loss of fertility, destructive logging in muang faai watersheds, and so forth. If he could make little headway against government experts in arguing reasons for decline in water availability, they, by the same token, could make little headway against him when he refers to the centrality of personal morality in maintaining fertility of the land. In similar fashion, muang faai villagers stoutly resist the translation of the penalties they have evolved for those who poach extra water from the system into "costs of doing business". The system would not work, they say, under such a translation. In the language of such villagers, the demand for five per cent of the country to plant eucalyptus may be morally suspect, but to expropriate a local peasant's five rai would be indefensible.

As NGOs have pointed out, the selection of generic items for concerted efforts at maximization is typically, in the case of "resource management", counterproductive. Centralized management is difficult, relatively untried, and, unlike commons arrangements, of unproven success in attaining even narrow technical environmental objectives. Isolation and valorization of a few simplified, decontextualized goals such as "national pulp demand", leads to an ever-expanding list of things being put in the omnibus category of "obstacles" to their achievement. In the eyes of Jaakko Poyry consultants, the resistance of millions of villagers to plantation schemes, the unenforceability of grandiose management plans, government unwillingness to redistribute land, patron-client systems, and cultural systems generally all tend to seem relatively minor or marginal "obstacles" or "bugs" in the implementation of planning documents whose major outlines are considered to be "well-thought-out", and which can be corrected by merely rewriting the documents.30 The social organization of the community of foreign consultants in countries such as Thailand thus tends to lead to an approach to land, water, forests and air which is utopian not only in the sense that it aspires to being, if not quite unsituated, then at least independent of any particular village context but also in the sense that it is unrealistic or impractical as a solution to the problems it itself poses.

ii) An orality - literacy axis

A second axis along which one can sketch a contrast between the current "home" system of thought of Thai commoners and that of Jaakko Poyry consultants is the orality-literacy axis. Among villagers fighting for control of local land and forests, internalization of oral practices usually predominates over internalization of the practices which writing makes possible. Writing, to be sure, has an old role in Thai village life. But it is used less for composition, thinking, communication and the negotiation of power relations than among foreign consultants. Indeed, in Thailand the sort of written knowledge on which Jaakko Poyry consultants rely is assigned to the category of wichakaan, which in Thai has such strong class (and classroom) overtones that it would be difficult to speak of village wichakaan. Among most villagers, what a literary orientation encourages -- dissection, isolation, pauses for definition, analysis, subordination, the filing away of knowledge -- takes second place to what an auditory, memorization-oriented oral one encourages -- aggregation, externalization, transparency and presence, redundancy, close audience contact, fulsomeness, the constant assimilation of the past into the present.31 Villagers often think and communicate in narratives and express considered thoughts on struggle and strategy not in lists but in densely meaningful, rhythmically-balanced precepts requiring context and an understanding audience to fill in their meaning. Discussion may be less like an exchange of letters than a contrapuntal, occasionally explosive, chorus of voices where, nevertheless, everybody hears everybody else.32 One Buriram leader sums up local strategy against loggers and eucalyptus planters, in which both caring for natural forest and going on the offensive against plantation interests play a part, in the phrase han lang phing paa han naa suu yuukhaa ("turning behind, we rely on the forest; turning ahead, we fight eucalyptus"); an Ubon Ratchathanee villager encapsulates decades of experience with market dependency in the epigram khon jon tham hai khon ruay ruay khon ruay tham hai khon jon jon ("the poor make the rich rich and the rich make the poor poor"); Karen opposing the Jaakko-Poyry-designed pine-logging project in Baan Wat Chan referred to above recite the kham suphaasit (saying): dai kin jaak nam tong raksaa nam dai kin jaak paa tong raksaa paa (if you want to drink water you have to preserve it; if you want to eat from the forest you have to preserve it).33 Villagers also adapt new movements and campaigns for conservation into songs and buttress the moral authority of their protests by offering contemporary interpretations to tales of the Buddha's life, old "end-of-the-world" stories, and oral legacies of the era when the Communist Party of Thailand dominated resistance to the government in much of the countryside.

The less visual orientation of a largely oral culture means that, as one Thai voluntary organization worker puts it, "when we [intellectuals] close our eyes, everything goes dark, but when villagers close their eyes, they can imagine things (nuek awk)." Other things being equal, use of maps and written law favors consultants, while reliance on detailed social-geographical ground knowledge favors villagers. Skills connected with the maintenance of the commons are preserved not in abstract, formalized manuals promising a self-contained, universally-applicable, and universally user-friendly short-cut to knowledge for those who have sufficient classroom background, but above all in people (for example, muang faai leaders) whose technical, psychological, moral and political abilities tend to come wrapped up in a single package. Sustained and critical thought about care for the commons and about the strategies for action against those who would take them away is carried out not on the written page or its internalized analogues but in the open air at village meetings, where villagers phop pa phuut khui kan or chuai kan khit. While often hierarchical, such discussion features constant confirmation of consensus and lengthy face-to-face sessions in which ends and means, preferences and methods of aggregation alike, are open to change.34 This type of oral-based reasoning is closely tied to the particular form of village democracy used, one which has little in common with parliamentary forms.35 The situated or topian nature of villager morality and knowledge is also connected with an awareness of being at a linguistic loss when outside a shared context of understanding among familiar hearers, and shared experience, whereas writing-dominated thought automatically assumes a widely-extended, mostly invisible community of interlocutors and powerholders, often now identified with the "nation".36

iii) A personality - impersonality axis

A third axis which can be used to help draw a contrast between Thai villagers' and Western consultants' present "home" systems of thought can be somewhat misleadingly characterized as a personality-impersonality axis. ("Misleadingly" because "personal" here does not have the usual Western connotations of "pertaining to the sphere of private life".) Thai relationships are more finely and importantly defined by kinship, fictive kinship, pronominal structure, entourages, and certain species of friendship than Western (public) ones, which tend to be defined in more detail through roles in organizations and state and market institutions.37 Even when farmers take on impersonally-defined roles such as would be described in the West as, say, those of "independent producers", or when the powerful adopt roles of "ministers", "capitalists", "executives" or "merchants", these roles are softened or warped, and leverage gained for one side or the other, by using kin and fictive kin terms to transmute relationships among them into patron-clientage.38 While such vertical, kin-flavoured relationships are crucial, a type of friendship among rough equals tied together by circumstance rather than ideology or even intimacy is also important. Throughout, face-to-face contact is critical not only to trust but to the formation of relationships themselves. Entourages, organizations and movements alike acquire particular physiognomies and cannot be characterized without reference to particular persons, offering a sharp contrast to Western ideals of impersonal organization. Supposedly special-purpose organizations often end up pursuing more general participant interests, as when a group of fisherfolk in Trang formed to buy gasoline wholesale for new motorized long-tail boats became the leaders of efforts to conserve a community mangrove forest.39 And while there are no short-cuts by which one can avoid establishing personal ties, people's eagerness for them and the relations of obligation which surround them often makes the establishment of personal networks remarkably swift. For villagers, the prominence of personalized relationships and of an oral, local orientation buttresses what Rorty calls a civility- or conversation-oriented rather than an nonpersonalized, algorithm-oriented notion of rationality.40

A personalized view of social action tends to open all parties in a dispute to particularly virulent types of slander and personal accusation.41 But it also effectively delegitimizes Western natural resource consultants' self-justification of being disinterested, unsituated, interchangeable agents of impersonal, disembodied forces and needs, and of merely applying universally-valid techniques after political decisions or preference formulation have been made elsewhere. Once consultants are viewed as characters in detailed local narratives, their claims that their backgrounds, interests, personalities, luncheon dates and salaries are irrelevant to their work, that as agents of impersonal forces they have the right to investigate others without being investigated themselves, that they are effective but not responsible, and that the information they hand out is "objective", begin to look suspect. From this point of view, too, international agencies' frequent claims that their past failures are not likely to be repeated sits uneasily with their continued reliance on non-local experience.

Despite the broadly topian culture of many villages, the systematic and widespread nature of current threats to the commons has enabled villagers to see themselves as actors in not only village-level but also regional- and even national-level narratives of resistance. Personal, face-to-face networks of people with similar practical experience are the primary tools and forums for their solidarity, rather than "imagined communities" grounded in abstractions, calculation and maximization, or ideological affinity. Monks have organized a walk through the entire Li river basin in Lampoon to help educate people about the local water crisis, under the auspices of sueb chataa rituals; and khon muang on the Mae Chaem in Chiang Mai have traveled far upstream to join Karen villagers at Baan Wat Chan in protests against the Forest Industry Organization/Jaakko Poyry scheme to log the watershed pine forest there. One village in Sakon Nakhorn even dispatches what villagers jokingly refer to as a "commando" squad to assist in demonstrations of displaced villagers in other provinces in the Northeast.


These contrasts can be sharpened by looking more extensively into how statements and other actions framed in one system or forum look to those situated in another. What do "village democracy", "decentralization", "participation" and so forth look like when translated into the the language and other practices of the TFSMP? What do "demand", TFSMP-style "bottom-up planning", "sustainability", "efficiency", "neutrality", and the TFSMP's assumption of foreigners' rights in planning look like when translated into the language and other practices of villagers and NGOs? What are the results for the political dialectic?

"Democracy", "decentralization" and "bottom-up"

The struggle over the TFSMP has been marked by objections to its antidemocratic nature and by calls for accountability and community power over the process. One strategy of the TFSMP has been to attempt to tame these concerns by translating them into the system of thought of the TFSMP itself through incorporation of a Provincial Forestry Sector Master Plan. In this system "bottom-up" planning proceeds either together with "top-down" planning, or even follows it. It is thus assumed a priori that villagers' demands can be made compatible with those of industrialists and bureaucrats. This assumption has been resisted by NGOs, who point, for example, to the TFSMP's February 1993 document on "Bottom-Up Planning and the Provincial Forestry Sector Master Plan" as evidence of the TFSMP team's "incapacity to understand the concerns of NGOs regarding the master plan".42 While the provincial plan promises, for example, that the "interest of local people living within ... the conservation zones" will be taken into account, the TFSMP's draft forest policy stipulates that "measures shall be undertaken to ... accelerate outmigration from the forest lands". And in a most telling form of words, the TFSMP considers that bottom-up planning "for forest resources which have been traditionally in the hands of villagers" will be accomplished when "forestry development and management plans", whose time horizons, industrial components, and authorship by "provincial authorities and staff" have been set in advance, are "outlined directly with villagers" (emphasis added); i.e., what NGOs call a "top-down" procedure.43

NGOs' resistance to such translations have generally been met with abstract assurances that other, more satisfactory translations will be forthcoming; and that if they are not, it will be the NGOs' own fault for not seeking them. On the one hand TFSMP has been presented as a "rolling process" which can accommodate any objections. Criticisms of the Terms of Reference and succeeding documents have been dismissed as "premature", since the TFSMP system is held to be "evolving" and previous stages to be "part of the past"; resisters, accordingly, are always invited to participate in succeeding stages. On the other hand, as the TFSMP approaches completion, a new plaint is being heard: that it is "too late" to influence the plan and that the dominance of top-down procedures is due to NGOs' refusal to participate in the process.44 As activists who try to influence the World Bank's projects have learned, there never seems to be a point for intervention at which it is neither "too early" nor "too late".

"Neutrality": from "facts" to "vision"

Poyry has consistently attempted to present its intervention in Thailand as "neutral", non-colonialist, non-political and, if not quite disinterested, then at least advantageous for all parties concerned. This was already difficult when it spoke of its role merely as a collector of "objective facts", a provider of correct management techniques and environmentally-friendly technologies, and a detached but friendly adviser to Thai society. NGOs pointed out that for outsiders to collect "objective data" for the use of the timber industry or pulp market researchers was already to intervene politically against village ways of life, and glossed "correct management techniques" as "management which is effective in benefiting interest group X". Poyry could not pretend to advise Thai society as a whole, they added; if it was operating under the umbrella of government forest policy, it was already taking a political stand against the rural majority. Attempting to address Thailand's forest crisis without addressing the issues of land and community rights would not only be counterproductive but would, again, be intervening on the side of political reaction. Poyry's proposal that the logging ban be reconsidered, moreover, was not a "mere technical" suggestion but actual political subversion, given that the ban had been a policy change reflecting widespread popular sentiment. Furthermore, claiming that pollution problems associated with promotion of pulp industries could be solved in theory through "state of the art" technologies was disingenuous and irresponsible if Thai industries could not afford or use them. Even the manner with which Poyry assumed the mantle of "neutrality" -- evidenced, for example, in Laitalainen's assumption of the right to lecture NGOs for not being "credible"45 -- gave offense. As one observer at the February 1991 meeting put it:

"I feel strange that we are sitting here arguing about Thai forests with foreigners. I'd like to ask the people in charge of the master plan whether you have learned anything at all since the last meeting in August ... What exactly is the need for a master plan in Thailand? ... If the majority of Thai people don't want your master plan, are you ready to withdraw?"46

But responding to these issues while trying to recover or maintain an appearance of neutrality has proved even more difficult. As noted above, Poyry has been able to balance its attempt to reach out to villagers and NGOs while maintaining its political links with the bureaucracy only by blatant double-dealing. Similarly, while Poyry has been forced to declare that no solution to forest problems is possible in Thailand that does not address the issue of land rights in NRFs, and to propose agrarian reform, such proposals also open the firm to the charge of political interference. More importantly, when there is little sign of such reform, Poyry makes no move toward withdrawing, leading to the same charges' being made. Poyry's attempt to defend the doctrine of non-politicized technologies has proved even more hopelessly self-contradictory:

"There is little risk of importing inappropriate technologies. The forest management techniques and knowledge is on a high level enough in Thailand to contribute effectively if the institutional and social frame only could be brought into shape."47

Poyry's claim to be facilitating the formulation of a neutral "national vision" on forests, similarly, raises the question of which parties have the political advantage in the forum in which this "vision" is negotiated. The word "national" indicates already a political bias in favor of governmental, bureaucratic, technical and business voices. The more politicking behind the scenes Poyry consultants engaged in in order to bring about a new forest policy, moreover, the less the firm could credibly maintain that it "did not make the rules" but only advised on the best ways of carrying them out.

Notes and references

1 Nicholas Hildyard, personal communication, November 1992

2 See Marcus Colchester and Larry Lohmann, The Tropical Forestry Action Plan: What Progress?, World Rainforest Movement, Penang, 1990.

3 In Brazil, Poyry has provided engineering, planning and technical services for at least 40 forest-industry projects, including pulp mills, eucalyptus plantations run by Shell and other companies, logging operations in the Amazon, and schemes to use tropical forests to fuel aluminum refining and wood gasifier projects. It is involved in the 850-square-kilometer Aracruz Florestal project widely opposed by Brazilian environmentalists. It supports more than eight industrial projects which exploit wood logged from natural forests and about a dozen eucalyptus projects. Poyry has more than 150 corporate clients working in Brazil, most in natural resource exploitation. In Indonesia, Poyry has worked with PT Indorayon, sued by an environmental organization over damage to a river caused by a pulp and rayon mill in North Sumatra. In Australia, Poyry was the principal consultant for the proposed Wesley Vale mill, halted by environmentalists. It has also worked in Sri Lanka, Portugal, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Chile, Malaysia and many other countries.

4 Ann Danaiya Usher, "A Finn-Ancial Harvest", The Nation, 10 Feb 1991.

5 Letter of Cheryl Cort, WRI, to Anek Nakhabutr, 3 Oct. 1988.

6 Usher, op. cit.

7 Forests and Development newsletter.

8 At least one NGO, while taking these protestations with a grain of salt, was tempted nevertheless to believe it could use the TFSMP to push the even more anti-villager RFD into concessions, and thus signed up to do a study of indigenous community forest activities. Another NGO, after agreeing to sit on the Steering Committee for the plan which was eventually set up, received a substantial and unprecedented grant from FINNIDA for its conservation activities. As a byproduct of its work on the TFSMP, Jaakko Poyry began to pick up spinoff contracts with Thai businesses, further solidifying its local political links.

9 "What is a signature?", Laitalainen mused, when confronted with this action at a later meeting in Helsinki.

10 A Know-How Wire photograph of Phra Prajak identified him as an "owner of cassava fields" in a forest area (monks cannot own fields or make commercial deals; cassava is widely associated with forest destruction).

11 Alasdair MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, Duckworth, London, 1988; Clifford Geertz, "Local Knowledge: Fact and Value in Comparative Perspective" in Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology, Harper, New York, 1983.

12 Whether one is "really loyal" to such a system or is "merely pretending" -- insofar as this question makes sense -- is not directly relevant to the political issue. Nor is it generally relevant whether one hopes to "convince" others or merely to act on the system within which they must work in order to constrain their actions. Nevertheless, true believers in a system of thought who become convinced of some truth because of the interaction of outsiders with that system can become important allies simply because they are likely to act on their beliefs more zealously than others.

13 Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts, Yale, New Haven, 1990.

14 The lack of need to acquiesce in others' translations leads naturally to reduced awareness of other languages and of the need to mark one's own as one among many. This fosters in turn an assumption of neutrality and a belief that what appears to be widespread reluctance to use forums such as the TFSMP is in fact merely a "breakdown in communication" due to "misinformation" or an instance of people "talking past each other" which, while regrettable, is remediable by better translations. Power and the claim to represent a neutral background forum thus go together.

15 See, for example, Mark Sagoff, The Economy of the Earth, Cambridge, 1990.

16 Word and Object, MIT, Cambridge, MA., 1960.

17 Barring those rare cases in which contact between systems of thought is new, or where encounters between systems of thought have become so routine, and all parties have settled into a stable pattern of manipulation of opposing systems of thought, that inter-system differences have dropped from view.

18 Fanon, E. R. Leach, Borges, Trinh T. Minh-Ha and many others have taught us how quickly particular systems of thought or arenas can be abandoned and one's self-definition changed in response to changing circumstances. Attachment to any particular system of thought may be only one moment in power or identity struggles for groups whose consciousness and strategies, like Duhem's imaginary ship, are constantly being rebuilt at sea using whatever materials are available, now using this, now that, as a foundation while what used to be a foundation is repaired and rebuilt. In fact, everyone uses different, mutually unassimilable systems of thought and action in different power contexts with different people.

19 Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony and Solidarity, Cambridge, 1990, Ch. 4.

20 See, for instance, Ivan Illich, Gender, Pantheon, New York, 1982; Hilydard, N., Lohmann, L., Sexton, S. and Fairlie, S., Whose Common Future? Reclaiming the Commons, Earthscan, London, 1993; Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons, Cambridge, 1990; Bonnie McKay and James M. Acheson, eds., The Question of the Commons, Arizona, Tucson, 1987.

21 Chatchawan Tongdeelert and Larry Lohmann, "The Muang Faai Irrigation System of Northern Thailand", The Ecologist 21 (5), 1991; Local Development Institute, eds., Paa chum chon (Community Forests), Bangkok, 1992.

22 Nevertheless, government officials can play on the commons ethic of subordinating individual interest to community interest when they appeal to "national interest" as a species of the latter. As Nualnoi Thammasathien points out, in struggling with this attempt to make a commons ethic friendly to national development, villagers must struggle with themselves.

23 As happened in 1989, after much struggle, when the RFD circumvented national law in order to recognize the forest stewardship rights of Chiang Mai's Huay Kaew village, which were threatened by an MP's resort development. Even in Choeng Doi village in Sakon Nakhorn, whose residents have had to resist continuing official eviction attempts, forestry officials' periodic checks on the state of the community forest (like the rest of the village, part of Phy Phan National Park) are not strenuously objected to, in that they lend credibility to villagers' conservation efforts. Peter Vandergeest observes that while the government views private property rights as a transfer of ownership from the state to an individual or household, rural cultivators tend to understand private property in land as a recognition of pre-existing and locally-recognized rights.

24 Peter F. Drucker, Post-Capitalist Society, Butterworth, London, 1993.

25 Hence modernists' frequent translations of statements of resistance as expressions of attempts to "go back to the past".

26 Jon Elster, "The Market and the Forum: three varieties of political theory", in Foundations of Social Choice Theory, ed. Elster et al., Cambridge, 1986.

27 Dean MacCannell, Empty Meeting Grounds, Routledge, London, 1993, pp.136-7.

28 This incident was recounted by the Karen villager in question to Ann Danaiya Usher in February 1993. In an interesting contrast, contrast, Rauno Laitalainen's charge that NGO accusations that the TFSMP tries to "separate people from forests" are based on a "misunderstanding" is much more difficult to make credible. Laitalainen refers repeatedly to the Finnish experience of human/forest coexistence as a model for what the TFSMP envisages for Thailand; but Thai NGO observers are able to explain in detail why this so-called human/forest coexistence is not what they are talking about.

29 See, for example, the vast literature which has followed in the wake of Garrett Hardin's "The Tragedy of the Commons", Science 162, 1968, pp.1243-1248.

30 Cf. IIED, The Khun Song Plantation Project, London, 1990; Poyry, Ban Wat Chan Integrated Rural Development Project: Main Report, Helsinki, 1991; World Bank statement on Pak Mun dam, World Bank Watch, 30 September 1991; Willi Wapenhans et al., "Effective Implementation: Key to Development Impact", confidential discussion draft, World Bank, Washington, July 24, 1992.

31 Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word, Routledge, London, 1982.

32 I owe this point to Dave Hubbel.

33 Montri Chanthawong, "Paa son khaw thammachaat baan wat chan: khanom khek kawn too thii raw wan tat baeng", mimeo, Chiang Mai, 1993. Andrew Turton et al. give amusing examples of the sardonic puns villagers make on names for rural development programs in Production, Power and Participation in Rural Thailand, UNRISD, Geneva, 1987. Kaan phatiluup thii din (land reform), for example, becomes kaan phat phat lup lup (patting and stroking, mollifying).

34 Not having to take on the other's job of looking at oneself entails less of a private-public split in the definition of individuals as well as in that of forests and water; this helps make such flexibility possible (A. R. Luria, Cognitive Development, ed. by Michael Cole, Harvard, 1976). The fact that face-to-face contact with known individuals is more important to subsistence than clocked activities also influences village organization of time.

35 Here we are closer to what Elster, op. cit. calls politics as "forum", where preferences can be transformed through open discussion.

36 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, Verso, London, 1991; Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man, Toronto, 1962.

37 In America a person is "Deputy Assistant Production Manager for Sound Equipment"; in Thailand she is an "employee"; while the only short English translation of khun, thaan, eng, kae, mueng, naai, phii, nong, lue and yuu alike is "you".

38 Jeremy Kemp suggests that contemporary patron-clientage "is a response to the destruction of the old order rather than a continuation of itl such a view is well in accord with the theory that the prominence of patron-clientage is linked to the penetration of a capitalistic economy, though as modern capitalism emerges it is reduced once more" ("The Manipulation of Personal Relations: From Kinship to Patron-Clientage: in Jan ten Brummelhuis and Kemp, eds., Strategies and Structures in Thai Society, Amsterdam, 1985). Tension between bureaucratic roles and personally-mediated patron-client entourages, of course, has existed at least since the Ayutthaya period; tension between market-defined roles and personal relations surely just as long.

39 Cf. Lucien Hanks, "The Thai Social Order" in Thomas Kirsch and G. W. Skinner, eds., Persistence and Change in Thai Society, Cornell, 1975.

40 Rorty, "Science as Solidarity" in Objectivity, Relativism and Truth, Cambridge, 1991, 35-45. Chuea, a word usually translated into English as "believe", and even more so chueafang, "heed", have strong overtones of personal relationships (in this case, hierarchical ones), indicating a partial dependence of what one should "believe" on one's relative social position. This is in contrast to the view on which, in Foucault's words, "the membership of scientific discourses in a systematic ensemble and not the reference to the individual who produces them stands as their guarantee."

41 Anonymous pamphlets, faxes and rumours charging environmentalists with offenses ranging from gunrunning to overweening personal political ambition, for example are a staple of the current Thai political scene.

42 Letter from Srisuwan Kuankachorn, Project for Ecological Recovery, to Rauno Laitalainen, 15 February 1993.

43 TFSMP, "Bottom-Up Planning and the Provincial Forestry Sector Master Plan", Annex 1, 1993.

44 Letter from Rauno Laitalainen to Sriswan Kuankachorn, 22 February 1993.

45 Equally arrogantly, Laitalainen has told NGOs that "one should also always exercise self-criticism in relation to which extent it would be beneficial to close the country from the surrounding world. A proper balance between national traditions and experiments of foreign origin may be worth of seeking."

46 Pinkaew Luang-aram-sri, seminar at Chulalongkorn University, 10 February 1991.

47 Letter from Laitalainen to Witoon, 5 August 1992. Emphasis added.


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