Politics of Representation
This article describes the political struggle of a nationwide rural-based movement in Thailand, the Assembly of the Poor (AOP), and interrogates the way its struggle has unfolded in the media. The AOP movement brings the politics of Thailand's rural poor to the public arena, within which it manifests its grievances and, at the same time, it proposes an ideological critique of state-imposed development and articulates oppositional visions of an alternative bottom-up development. The article shows how the discursive struggle over media visibility and representation has been central to the making and unmaking of the movement. The AOP's presence in media space has allowed it to bring counter-perspectives to public attention, thereby creating a nationwide conversation about the grievances of poor villagers, rallying support for AOP causes and actions, and heightening the possibility for entering into dialogue with the government concerning state development projects. The article also points out, however, that the media plays a pivotal role in managing the space of public communication, deciding if and how the AOP should be represented (though not without constraints) — and this may have detrimental effects. Media space is thus a central site of ideological and political contestation that no social movement can afford to dismiss, if it desires political change.