Contesting Landscapes in Thailand: Tree Ordination as Counter-territorialization
Recently, authors Vandergeest and Peluso have discussed the process of territorialization in Siam/Thailand, where the state has gradually expanded its control over natural resources through its legal machinery and associated classifications of the natural environment. While Vandergeest and Peluso focus on the process of territorialization from the perspective of the Thai State, this article examines the same process from the perspective of nongovernmental organizations and forest-dwelling farmers. Of particular interest is a project launched by the Northern Farmer's Network to "ordain" 50 million trees in community forests throughout Northern Thailand in 1996 to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the king's accession to the throne. This essentially Buddhist ceremony has since been conducted in numerous Buddhist as well as non-Buddhist rural communities. The authors argue that these communities apply the tree ordination ceremony as a tool to counter the territorialization of the Thai state by reasserting local identities and environmental responsibilities. By invoking Buddhist symbols and the honor of the king, the rural groups—many of which fear eviction from forested areas classified as national parks—identify themselves positively with modern Thai society in order to contest their public depiction as "enemies of the nation." This article analyzes the process of territorialization and counter-territorialization in Thai society by discussing classifications and associated landscapes in the environmental debate in Thailand. Furthermore, the tree ordination project undertaken by the Northern Farmers' Network is analyzed based on cases from the Mae Chaem district in Chiang Mai Province.