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Globalisers vs Communitarians: Public Intellectuals Debate Thailand’s Futures

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In the past decade Thailand’s bubble of prosperity expanded beyond the wildest dreams of investors and burst in the faces of those who had inflated it. By being the fastest growing economy in the world as well as the epicentre of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Thailand became a cautionary tale of hypergrowth. During the boom and especially after the bubble economy burst there were heated debates in Thailand’s highly energised public sphere about the accelerating pace of change, about political reform, and about the possible futures for the country and its people. All Asian countries subjected to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) regime of austerity saw their national economic sovereignty compromised, and in this respect the financial crisis of 1997 had clear parallels with previous threats to Thailand’s sovereignty in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Then, as in the late 1990s, the ruling elites allowed sovereignty to be compromised.

In this essay I endeavour to map out the intellectual contours of post-boom Thailand. While accepting that these public debates are concentrated in the Bangkok megalopolis, I would suggest that it would be a mistake to dismiss the dominant themes of these debates as fatally elitist or Bangkok-centric. The public intellectuals engaging the issues have close ties to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other activists elsewhere in the country. At the core of these debates is the need to empower local communities in order to contend with the pressures of international financial organisations such as the IMF, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
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Keywords: Thai identity; Thailand; communitarian; financial crisis; globalisation; local knowledge

Document Type: Original Article

Affiliations: Asian History Centre, Australian National University, Canberra

Publication date: 2001-11-01

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