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2021 Meeting of the Council on Thai Studies Schedule

Group pf people seen standing facing up

Welcome Address

Friday, Nov. 12, 16:00 –16:30 (U.S. EST)
Saturday, Nov. 13, 04:00 – 04:30 Thailand

COTS Co-Chairs: Pittaya Paladroi-Shane, Associate Professor of Instruction, Thai & World Languages, World Languages Coordinator, Center for International Studies, and

Jeffrey R. Shane, Southeast Asian Reference Librarian, Center for International Collections, Alden Library, Ohio University

Dr. Neil Romanosky, Dean, Ohio University Libraries

Dr. Patrick Barr-Melej, Interim Executive Director, Center for International Studies, Professor of History

Panel 1: Thai History: Cultural Exchanges, Appropriation and Thai Innovation

Friday, Nov. 12, 16:30–17:30 (U.S. EST)
Friday, Nov. 12, 22:30–23:30 CET
Saturday, Nov. 13, 04:30-05:30 Thailand
Moderator: Jeffrey Shane (Alden Library, Ohio University)

Jan R. Dressler

Asia-Africa-Institute, University of Hamburg, Germany

“Shared Legacies – The Legendary History of Angkor and Its Nineteenth Century Genesis”

The magnificent ruins of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom bear witness to the ancient civilization of Cambodia, which flourished at the banks of the Mekong river and the Tonlé Sap between the 9th and 13th century. It was, however, not until King Norodom I of Cambodia had mandated the reconstitution of the chronicles of his kingdom in 1869 AD, that Khmer language versions of the royal chronicles were compiled which, seemingly without any prior model, attempted to incorporate into the history of the Cambodian state the forgotten past of the Angkorean kingdom. Among the specimen of traditional Cambodian historiography preserved in the Siamese language alone, a text commonly referred to as “Rueang Phra Chao Prathum Suriwong” demonstrably predates this development. Based on Southeast Asian folklore and literature, and in a fashion less elaborate and refined as its successors, this short chronicle relates the legendary history of the Angkorean polity from the construction of the famous temple complexes throughout the ages until the 14th century. Drawing on a survey of Siamese archival and historiographic sources, I argue in this presentation that in the early 1860s the Cambodian royal court initially produced this first draft of a legendary history of the Angkorean kingdom on the explicit request of King Rama IV of Siam, and subsequently adapted the idea to suit its own political purposes.

Wilawan Buergel

University of Hamburg

“Siam culture from the perspective of Graf Friedrich Albert zu Eulenburg, the Prussian expedition in 1861-1862”

In 1859, the expansion of Prussian trade led to the search for commercial partners in South-Eastern Asia, and Graf zu Eulenburg was chosen to head an extensive trade mission. He set out for Japan, China, and Siam. He concluded a Japanese-Prussian Treaty of Amity and Commerce with Muragaki Norimasa of the Tokugawa shogunate in Edo on 24 January 1861, later, in the same year, he negotiated a commercial treaty with the Qing Empire, which was modelled after the Treaty of Tianjin that Britain and France had brokered with China three years earlier. Afterwards, during the reign of King Mongkut (1851-1868), Eulenburg travelled to Siam to conclude the Eulenburg treaty signed on 7 February 1862. This treaty is still influencing the official relationship between Thailand and Germany.

King Mongkut received the Eulenburg mission at first in a private audience on 24 December 1861. The reception of the Prussian diplomatic mission differed in this regard from missions of other European countries.  The records of the Eulenburg mission help to understand the cultural diversity of Siam by conveying the impressions of zu Eulenburg and other members of the mission. The description of certain cultural differences in the recordings might be exacerbated, as the underlying reasons of certain actions or ceremonies might be misinterpreted from a non-Siamese point of view. This is emphasized in certain cases by the reaction of  members of the mission towards a welcoming gesture, as the meaning of specific gestures vary in different cultures. Therefore, it is a necessary to consider varying explanations of particular acts and not come to a premature conclusion in these cases. The findings are supplemented by studying the Siamese attitude towards the Prussian diplomatic mission and its treatment of the members of the mission.

Taylor Easom

Indiana State University

“From Buffer State to Multi-Imperial Cities: Competitive and Cooperative Colonialism and the shape of Northern Thai Urbanism”

Multiple empires have shaped the history of modern Thailand. For many years, scholars explained the survival of Siam as an independent kingdom through the geopolitical idea of a ‘buffer state’ between the competing realms of the French and British empires, a view that clearly locates agency in the west. Looking at this history from the perspective of the cities of northern Thailand, however, we see less of a buffer state, and more of a multi-imperial landscape where competing and cooperating colonial interests conspire to transform the region’s economic centers of power, while leaving the colonial modernization to Siamese elites based in Bangkok. Therefore, my paper argues that by looking at this history from the perspective of the urban north, we see colonial forces at work in an overlapping, cooperative effort to transform the region, rather than a buffer state predicated on the strategic absence of empire.

Furthermore, these forces are not only western, in the form of American, French, and British groups, but also Asian, in the form of Bangkok elites and overseas Chinese communities that followed Siamese occupation in the north. Finally, I argue that this multi-imperial dynamic contributes significantly to the dilemma facing northern Thailand (and northern Thai cities) today, specifically a longstanding and worsening crisis of local governance, and an inability to control the terms and pace of urban development aimed at non-local (i.e. Bangkok) and international (i.e. Western and Chinese) consumers.

Panel 2: Politics, Civil Society, and the Military

Friday, Nov. 12, 17:40–18:40 EST
Saturday, Nov. 13, 05:40 – 06:40 Thailand
Moderator: Taka Suzuki (Department of Political Science, Ohio University


Pitch Pongsawat

Chulalongkorn University

“Electoral Politics and Politics of Urban Development in Bangkok since 2014”

In this presentation, I will explore three dimensions of urban politics in Bangkok, based both on my previous and current research, i.e. the urban dimension of the General Election in Bangkok, local elections in Bangkok, and politics of urban development in Bangkok. Specifically, I will explore the result of the 2019 general election in Bangkok and the ensuing political dynamics in relation to the next general election that year.  I will also discuss how the 2014 coup suspended the electoral structure of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and why they still have no plan for the announcement of the local election in Bangkok while other local authorities in Thailand have already held local elections. Finally, I will discuss select issues related to urban development in Bangkok, which that are impacting both national and local elections in Bangkok. 


Paul Chambers

Center of ASEAN Community Studies, Naresuan University, Phitsanulok, Thailand

“The Evolution of Khaki Capital in Thailand”

How has Thai military money evolved until today? Using the framework of Historical Institutionalism, this article defines and scrutinizes the evolution of “khaki capital” over time in Thailand amidst political parameters affecting its growth. The article then examines how the history of Thai khaki capital has influenced its existence in the country today—a situation paralleling the character of Thai civil-military relations. The degree of military control over its own financing tends to affect the ability of civilians to achieve control over it. It is argued herein that Thailand’s legacies of authoritarianism, endorsement by a popular monarchy, civilian divisions amidst relative military unity, and continuing national emergencies punctuated by coups prevented a critical juncture toward a path of elected civilian control, allowing the military to persevere and aggrandize economic power in principal areas over time.


Stephanie du Chatellier

University of Wisconsin-Madison

"Politics in the Classroom: History and Civic Education in Thailand”

What does it mean to be Thai? In Thailand, cultural citizenship largely determines political participation in national elections. Since the 1932 revolution that transformed Thailand's absolute monarchy into a constitutional one, twelve successful coups have followed. Central to these coups have been questions of who has the right to participate in the political administration of the country, with lines being drawn along class, ethnicity, religion, geographic region, and loyalty to the crown. My dissertation research explores these identity politics through the lens of the national curriculum, and how it is used by the state to shape an “ideal” model of Thai national identity that supports the political dominance of the monarchy and military. To accomplish this study, I divided the research into three main components: semi-structured interviews with officials in the Ministry of Education on the goals and design of the national Thai history and civic education curriculum; archival research examining the current curriculum in comparison to other national curricula that have been provided by governments since the compulsory education act of 1921; and ethnographic fieldwork at two elite secondary schools in Bangkok to study how the Thai history and civic education curriculum is operationalized in the classroom and aligns with goals of the state. I argue that the national curriculum can be used as a political indicator for the stability of a nation. Like the GDP, public health, or the existence of a free press, education also provides a powerful lens to assess stark inequalities that lead to social unrest. Uniquely however, the national curriculum reveals how these inequalities become rationalized in a society and serve to create and maintain systems of inequality. 

Panel 3: Buddhism, Explorations, and Material Symbols of Religiosity

Friday, Nov 12, 18:50–20:05 EST
Saturday, Nov. 13, 06:50–08:05 Thailand


Moderator: Brian Collins (Department of Classics and World Religions, Ohio University)


Nathan McGovern


“Does Thailand Have a “Local Religion”?

As with virtually every other country in the Buddhist world, Thailand is often portrayed in scholarly and popular literature as having a “local religion” that is in some way distinct from Buddhism. In Thailand, this local religion is characterized by belief in and worship of phī (ผี), practices associated with non-monastic religious personnel known as mò (หมอ), beliefs and practices surrounding a multiplicity of “souls” known as khwan (ขวัญ), and supposedly non-normative beliefs about the trans-migration of the winyān (วิญญาณ). This local religion was codified most influentially in a three-fold schema of animism, Brahmanism, and Buddhism by Thomas Kirsch. In this paper, I argue that “local religion,” by whatever name it is called, is a worthless category for describing Thai religion because it lacks specificity. On the one hand, everything about Thai religion is local insofar as it is instantiated in a local place. On the other hand, nothing is local insofar as all religious practices can be traced historically to some sort of non-Tai antecedent, including, for much of what is typically considered intrinsically Thai or Tai, from Chinese culture. The perceived need to delineate a “local religion” in Buddhist cultures such as Thailand’s is in fact the result of a projection of the problematization of certain types of beings—known in the West as “spirits”—in Christianity in the wake of the late medieval nominalist revolution and the Reformation.

Brooke Schedneck

Rhodes College

“Maintaining Mutual Dependence: Lay Buddhists' Perceptions of the Thai Monastic Institution"

In contemporary Thai Buddhist society, a significant topic of discussion is monastic behavior. Not only political coups, stalled elections, and the management of Covid-19 outbreaks dominate the news cycle. Transgressions of appropriate monastic behavior are also important news items. From the financial scandals of Phra Dhammachayo, abbot of the controversial Wat Dhammakaya to the photos of now defrocked monk, Luangpu Naen Kham, lying with a woman, major allegations of significant monastic figures fill Thai people’s news feeds. Not only major monastic scandals involving sex, drugs and money, but also minor, ‘everyday scandals’ of misbehaving monks appear regularly in Thai media outlets. The prominence of social media and smart devices has allowed for not only journalists, but also regular Thai citizens to catch Buddhist monks at inopportune moments. With this level of suspicion and regulation of the monastic institution, this presentation asks: Who is a good monk? Utilizing analysis of Thai media from 2010-2021 along with a survey conducted during May-July 2021 of 60 Thai lay Buddhist participants, I argue that Thai Buddhists perceive the current moment to be a precarious time for their religion, where the trust between monks and laity is breaking down. Yet, my findings in Thai social media commentary on monastic scandals and from my survey reveal that there remains trust in the Buddhist teachings, the necessity of support for the religion, and especially for the disciplined monks they worship. 


Matthew Werstler

Northern Illinois University

“Musicking and Identities in and from Religious Places of Thai Diasporas in Chicagoland”

It is through religious places that Thai Americans negotiate their Thai identity (Bao 2017). For most Thai Americans these places would be Buddhist temples, but for a small minority, Thai churches also serve as a place where Thais in Chicagoland can negotiate identity and their Christian faith in an urban community. Through musicking, Thai Christians in Chicagoland participate in a transnational process of identity formation and community relation. By establishing place, the musicking in religious places allows for cross-cultural exchange but fortifying of Thai Christian identity. From the religious places, Thai Americans also bring their respective communities to participate and host outreach events into spaces outside the boundaries of the religious places where musicking is involved. Within and outside the religious place, musicking is a part of the Thai American experience.

This research was conducted from 2019 through 2021. Even throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Thai American communities continued to find ways to create music. Thai Americans are, in their practices, imagining, sustaining, and performing their “Thai” identity to varying degrees, which was seen in the Chicagoland area prior to the appearance of the pandemic. These performances show an importance for the need of Asian voices in the public forum amid violence again Asians. Through varied musicking experiences, Thai diaspora communities discover opportunities to perform and negotiate their Thainess through various sacred spaces that carry out functions transcending their proscribed practices.

Alan Potkin

Northern Illinois University

“Restoring, Re-creating, and Elaborating Interpretive Materials for the Sri Thanonchai Interior Wall Paintings of the Wat Pathumwanaram Wihaan (Main Hall) in Bangkok”

Prior to their rehabilitation, White Lotus Press published a complete catalog of the original (ca. 1857) Pathum wihaan murals, including a very cursory indexed plan titling in Thai and in English— those of the paintings which weren't "completely damaged". The photographic archiving taken both before and after the superb restorations by the Department of Fine Arts was disadvantaged by the structure's large internal pillars precluding non-oblique imaging. The White Lotus illustrations had excluded the caption boxes below each of the main panels. Evidently, in the course of the 2010-2012 restorations (during which the wihaan was closed to the public), the original caption box texts were overpainted and the former several lines of script weren't included in any of the restorations as they presently stand. Was there a systematic archive made of the original text content and if so, is it publicly accessible?

Either way, a complete version of the Sri Thanonchai/Xiang Miang stories in the original Old Lao palm leaf bailane —as was microfiched by the Lao-German MSS Project of the 1990s— has been digitized by us and is now freely available online. Thus, the lost captions can be easily back-engineered, panel by panel. There also exist English-subtitled videos charmingly recapitulating many of the component tales by a Lao traditional story-teller.

Broadly speaking, in-situ site and artifact interpretive installations tend to be either too detailed for casual visitors, or too superficial for scholarly researchers. Simple and inexpensive "Quick Response" (QR) technology is still peculiarly under-utilized in cultural documentation but quite well suited to resolve this conundrum, as ubiquitous hand-held device cameras now readily auto-scan QR-glyphs as small as 2x2 cm; instantly accessing thereby extensive online content in a range of multilingual visual and textual formats including virtual- and enhanced-reality video productions and full-on academic discourses.

Panel 4: Reclaiming Thai Films from the Forgotten Past

Friday, Nov.12, 20:15–22:45 EST
Saturday, Nov. 13, 08:15–10:45 Thailand

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Moderator: Jeffrey Shane (Alden Library, Ohio University)          


Janaprakal Chandruang (Khru Chang), Pittaya Paladroi-Shane, & Jeffrey Shane present the film คำสั่งคำสาป (Curse of the Order)

Curse of the Order is a suspenseful and intelligent Hitchcockian murder mystery, set against the backdrop of the Cold War. The plot revolves around the character Dr. Thongkham, a highly respected Thai citizen and brilliant political thinker, who is maliciously and falsely accused of harboring communist sympathies upon his death.    

Burnet, Lamont, dir. Curse of the Order (คำสั่งคำสาป) 1954; Washington, D.C.; United States Information Agency. Motion Picture and Television Service. Laboratory Services. Film Versions. 1:41:58.

Panel 5: The Archeology and Cultural Heritage of Phimai

Saturday, Nov. 13, 08:30–09:45 EST
Saturday, Nov. 13, 20:30–21:45 Thailand

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Moderator: Rungsima Kullapat (Carolina Asia Center, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill)


Rungsima Kullapat

Carolina Asia Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“Reconciling Community Conflict through the Revival of Phimai Old Town Heritage”

This panel focuses on the relationship between the Thai Fine Arts Department and the administration of Phimai Municipality, on the one hand, and ordinary people in local communities on the other. Thai scholars, aware of losses to their heritage, have been enlisted to raise the awareness of ordinary citizens to the concurrent dangers to their ways-of-life.

Phimai Old Town has been a living community from the pre-historic period to the present. However, Thai government policy planning focusses only on the layer of Khmer (archaeological) Architecture, neglecting the heritages of the people currently living in this space. In 2004 Phimai Old Town was nominated to the UNESCO Tentative List. This nomination increased the conflict between the local communities and the government about land use. In 2020, FAD withdrew the tentative list from UNESCO without discussion with Phimai’s citizens.

Scholars, employing the research method of participant-observation coupled with knowledge of international charters for the preservation of heritage and multimedia, have provided advice and ammunition to support efforts by members of the local communities. In addition, the national media have assisted in showing the strength of these local communities. The cultural heritage management process has impacted on these local communities by bringing them together to set up a heritage trust.


Sitta Kongsasana, Sininart Kotruchin, and Benjawan Thatsanaleelaporn

Khon Kaen University

“Unfolding Ban Suai Nai’s Heritage: Towards E-Searching for its Hidden cultural Assets”

Ban Suai Nai, situated on the Southeast fringe of Phimai historic town in Thailand, has been shown to be continuously inhabited for three thousand years. Local citizens are descended from ‘Suai-Kui’- an ethnic group specialized in elephant raising – who resettled many years ago from “lower Cambodia”. This community is undergoing rapid urbanization, leading most of its residents to stop farming, to sell their cultivated lands, and to change their occupations. Youth depart for further education or seek employment elsewhere, leaving their natal families behind. Besides this on-going transformation, the Suai-Kui community is considered the ‘poorest' in the Phimai Subdistrict Municipality. Given these circumstances, some questions are central to this current stage of exploratory research, such as: How is ‘poverty’ estimated? Are there hidden aspects to this ‘poverty’?; Does any sense of ethnic identity still exist?; How will these people keep their traditions alive in a globalized world? This article discusses some ideas to be gathered from a pre-field survey conducted at Ban Suai Nai and related areas, aiming to discover the community’s cultural capital through identification of its cultural heritage. Results from key informant interviews will be adopted for further data collecting. The continuing investigation will focus on how local citizens live, work, and play in both everyday life and festive events. Initial results indicate that, as expected, the local people do not realize the ‘uniqueness’ of the ‘ordinary’ heritage they possess. The goal of this study is to valorize Ban Suai Nai’s cultural heritage and activate cultural capital from community roots for contemporary and future living.


Khanittha Chaibandit and Somphinith Muangthong

Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, Rajamangala University of Technology Isan, Thailand

“Phimai Old Town is (not) the Water City”

Phimai is said to be a city of water because the city is surrounded by rivers. Phimai receives water from the Lam Chamuak which flows into the Chakrat Lam and the Mun River. The water then flows out of Phimai by the Mun River and Lam Khem River. Phimai is lowland, resulting in frequent flooding with an abundance of water resources. The importance of water is clearly conveyed by the utilization of many plant  and species and the water itself.

The deposition of plants in flooded areas coupled with endemic trees results in vegetal communities called Sanun (Salix tetrasperma) by villagers. Sanun helps to maintain ecosystems and treat community wastewater as well. At present, with the encroachment on water resources and the expansion of urban areas, the role of water resources in the life of community members is reduced, causing the number of trees to decrease and a decrease in natural wastewater treatment.

In the past members of the community used the dugout canoe, E-pong, for travel and fishing in the Mun River and its branches. The E-Pong is a dugout canoe made from palm trees at least 20 years old. The trees are cut in half and dug out so that the shell is about 1.5 inches thick. Currently, roads have replaced water ways for travel. Phimai has also lost the skill of craftmanship because of the decrease in the use of E-Pong. Only a small minority of people still use boats for fishing. The material culture related to Phimai water resources has begun to disappear. As natural and cultural assets, the water ways and E-Pong have value both for the environment and the local economy. They can be revived to promote a sustainable community and eco-system.


Wanlop Srisamran

Rajamangala University of Technology Isan, Thailand

“Digital media, a tool to support information on cultural resources in Phimai Old Town”

In 2018, the average Thai spent 10 hours a day on digital media. Given this, I use digital media as a tool to try to solve problems. I focused on solving the problem of tourists entering the Phimai Municipality who head straight to Phimai Historical Park and then go away. This generates very little income for the community.  With data gathered from tourist interviews and other sources, I found that tourists do not know what else is interesting in Phimai. Most of them only know about “Prasat Hin Phimai”. Even members of the local population don't know Phimai’s cultural information. This research therefore, has resulted in designs in accordance with the needs of the community and tourists. Several digital media have been developed, including Augmented Reality applications for navigation. Cultural information is displayed through maps in a multimedia format with 360-degree visualization. Location-based websites can show cultural heritage around the user. Videos can show the construction of an “E-Pong” canoe and Phimai handmade noodle production. Digital media using QR CODEs can assemble the “Ban Suai Nai” local museum. LINE stickers with local legends and local language can enable visitors to experiment with the local language, resulting in local people cherishing their cultural heritage. Videos have been developed documenting the wisdom of local sages. All of this is published through social media for people to see and become interested in Phimai culture. The development of digital media as a tool to support information regarding Phimai cultural resources is an important aspect in reviving Phimai old city cultural heritage.


Sombat Haesakul, Thanapin Attarit and Pronsawad Singyam

“The History of Phimai : How a Research Project Created Social Value for a Local Culture and its Economy”

For members of Thai society, the main perception of art and culture is that these are ancient objects (referred to as “Objects”) with spiritual value which do not generate income. However, the modern perspective on art and culture is that these are not just antiques with underestimated value. These “Objects” can also reflect economic value and generate social value for the community. Cultural economy and cultural tourism are linked with the “Objects” and tourism activities; they can become instruments of development for a community’s economy and society. The promotion of tourism creates tourist activities and results in the renovation of “Objects” by community stakeholders, adding value and income for the community. This article estimates how much The Revival of Cultural Heritage in the Phimai Old Town by Arts & Culture Motivation to Develop the Community Economics Research Project created a return investment. This Project was granted 3.50 million Baht by the Thailand Research Fund (TRF). Estimation of the investment is assessed by a Return of Investment (ROI) and Social Return of Investment (SROI), where ROI measures financial value, and SROI indicates social value generated by stakeholder activities and community collaboration. The study results assessed that the research fund generated a net benefit of 76.13 million baht. ROI is estimated 21.75 baht, meaning that 1 Baht of the research budget will generate a return about 21.75 Baht. The total social return value of 145.93 million Baht, calculated by the return from stakeholders of about 69.79 Baht and financial return of about 76.13 million Baht, means that 1 Baht devoted to research can generate a social return of about 41.69 Baht.

Panel 6: Music & Dance

Saturday, Nov 13, 09:55–11:10 EST
Saturday, Nov. 13, 21:55–23:10 Thailand

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Moderator: Carla Williams (Alden Library, Ohio University)


Teerawit Klinjui

Chulalongkorn​ University

“Pleng Samniang Phasa: The (Mis)Conception of Ethnic Music Cultures in Thai Classical Music”

Pleng samniang phasa, literally translated as “accented language songs,” is a set of musical pieces that imitates ethnic “accents” in Thai classical Music. Most of the ethnically accented pieces played today are composed only by a few established Thai classical music masters and share several common musical characteristics. This includes addition of lyrics in languages other than the Central Thai, and instruments not commonly used in Thai classical music ensembles. While regarded by many as an indicator of stylistic diversity, these pieces perpetuate monolithic stereotyping of the cultural others among Thai classical musicians. Even though there are recently composed pleng samniang phasa that explore musical styles beyond the existing twelve ethnic accents, yet these pieces are still categorized and recognized within those accents. How do the ethnically accented pieces affect Thai classical musicians’ perception on the cultural others?  In this presentation, I examine the making of cultural other through ethnic accents in Thai classical music. I argue that the socio-cultural contexts play an important role toward the imagination of ethnically accented pieces in the tradition. In this paper, I used hybrid ethnographic method to investigate the politics behind pleng samniang phasa. I offer multicultural perspective as an alternative approach to transcend the established ethnic stereotypes and to call for cultural relativism in musical works. This, in turn, will lead to more respectful attitude of musical creation and more horizontal relationships in Thai classical music towards other music cultures, which are relevant to all fields of music studies. 

Glynnis White

Northern Illinois University

“Recording On: Khaen Pedagogy and Modern Technology”

Western art musicians are trained to use written notation to play music, however this practice is not found in every musical culture. Music notation is not needed for the khaen, a free reed bamboo mouth organ from Thailand, because music is transmitted aurally. To facilitate this process, students might use a recording device to record their teacher playing so they can remember the music after the lesson is over. With easier access to recording equipment, and the development of media sharing platforms like YouTube, musicians can share their recordings to a wider audience. Those interested in learning to play the khaen do not need to go to Thailand because there are a variety of instructional videos on YouTube. I argue that as a result of modern technologies like YouTube, khaen has become more accessible to Westerners. This is evident in the videos produced by YouTuber Jonny Olsen. He uses YouTube to spread information and instruction. Besides YouTube, audio recording can assist in musical enculturation. Technology does not change the oral tradition of Thai music because technology only changes the way the instruction is delivered.


Supeena Insee Adler


“Thai Performing Arts and Community in Southern California”

Thai music and dance are taught in two distinct contexts in Southern California: in multiple Thai Buddhist temples, and at UCLA as a performance course for undergraduate and graduate students. While UCLA serves its student population, the temples serve the wider community, especially non-Thai, or American children of Thai heritage. Thai Buddhist temples in Southern California function not only as religious spaces for monks and lay people to practice their beliefs, but also as community centers for people to participate in non-religious cultural activities. The attendees of temple classes seek to reconnect to their Thai roots through conventional narratives of nation, religion, and king, as well as through the contemporary concept of "local wisdom," all of which are strongly present in Thai culture but otherwise not experienced by communities in the U.S. Temple communities emulate Thai cultural activities according to conventional calendars but on a smaller scale, giving participants a sense of belonging to Thai communities in the homeland—a homeland to which some parents envision returning. By taking Thai language, music, and dance classes for several years at the temples, children learn to value their parents' heritage and gain respect for their parents' beliefs. The author will present her ethnographic perspective on these cultural activities as both an observer and an active participant in organizing and teaching music, dance and culture at a temple in Escondido, California, and as the director of the Music of Thailand Ensemble class at UCLA.


Nattapol Wisuttipat

University of California, Riverside

“Suay and Saep: Untangling Gender, Sexuality, and Queer Men Musicians in Thai Classical Music” 

Expressive cultures of Thailand are a rich avenue for scholarly inquiries regarding gender and sexuality issues. While films, theatre, and dance have been successful in this regard, the same cannot be said in the Thai classical music scholarship. Several queer men musicians in khreuang sai or string ensemble are recognized for their musical excellence, but their social experiences have never been a subject of serious examination. How do these musicians navigate through and negotiate with the established gender norms in Thai classical music?  How might attending to queer musicians provide a lens to make an informed critique to the tradition? In this presentation, I focus on queer men musicians who play jakhe, a floor zither. I argue that the instrument becomes a site where an alternative form of masculinity is actualized. Drawing on hybrid ethnographic information, I illustrate how queer men musicians utilize their musicking bodies to simultaneously incorporate masculinity and femininity and to show the ways in which these musicians assert their presence through a queer reinterpretation of the existing musical texts. At the same time, I am also cautious to the unequal visibility of other queer communities in the tradition. My presentation tackles the rigid gender mapping that situates masculinity with percussive instruments and femininity with stringed instruments in Thai classical music. My intervention aims to push the boundary of Thai classical music scholarship beyond the top-down male- and piiphaat-centric knowledge. I demonstrate that critical work on Thai classical music meaningfully contributes to scholarly discourses in Thai studies. 

Panel 7: Politics, Regionalism, Ethnicity and Thainess

Saturday, Nov. 13, 11:20–12:20 EST
Saturday, Nov. 13, 23:20–00:20 Thailand

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Moderator: Alec Holcombe (Department of History, Ohio University)


Joel Selway

Brigham Young University

“Ecosystems of Nationalism: Separatism, Regionalism and Nationalism in Contemporary Thailand”

What explains the variation in ethnic politics across Thailand’s four cultural regions—from no political activation of ethnic identity in the South and Northeast, to agitations for secession in the North and a full-on civil war in the Deep South? I argue that each region has developed a distinct “ecosystem of nationalism” based on the manner of pre-modern relations with the Siamese kingdom, incorporation into the modern Thai state, and post-war politics. Relying on open-ended surveys, I show how these historical contexts have led to idiosyncratic definitions of national and regional identities in each region. These styles of nationalism predict outcomes in a survey experiment that gauge’s susceptibility to ethnic politicization.


Rattiya Fisher & Nattima Markchoo

University of Phayao

“Neoliberalism and Social Policy in Thailand”

Neoliberalism has been adopted as the framework in transforming public policy across the world since the 1970s, through international development organizations. The commitment of state institutions towards deregulation, privatization, and welfare in market-led policies in Thailand is believed to be influenced by the concept of neoliberalism, in which the state is observed to prioritize the implementation of policies that seek to facilitate market activity over policies that address social problems. Since the 1990s, successive Thai governments have been market-oriented, introducing social policies intended to improve the lives of marginal groups and relieve the oppressed. While these policies have purported to improve people’s livelihoods, expenditures on social welfare have been proportionately decreased. The concept of Neoliberalism was applied to investigate how social policy under the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, focusing on marginal groups such as the elderly, women, youth and disabled people, has been influenced by the characteristics of neoliberalism, and the ways in which these targeted groups have been impacted by such policies. Ultimately, it seeks to investigate the effectiveness of the collaboration of the state, civil society, the private sector and international organizations in delivering policies shaped by neoliberalism to address issues such as poverty and deprivation.

Adam Knee

Lasalle College of the Arts

"Frameworks for Conceptualizing Global Screen Representations of Thailand"

Thailand has served as subject matter and setting for a broad range of international screen texts going back to the earliest days of cinema—though this phenomenon has had a widely varying nature over time and place. This presentation will briefly outline some of the trends the author has noted in a series of studies of film representations of Thailand from differing national cinemas, and then go on to discuss some of the broader conceptual issues that have been emerging in synthesizing these into a wider analysis of global (non-Thai) representations of Thailand in film and television.

Among the questions to be discussed: How does one define or delimit the “object” of such a study? What are the kinds of determinants that have given rise to higher numbers of examples of Thai representations coming from certain countries (and sometimes in certain periods)—and can any patterns be seen in these determinants? In relation to this, what models have the most explanatory power or usefulness in attempting to account for the prevalence of such non-Thai representations of Thailand? What are the trends in the textual nature of these representations, and do these show consistencies and/or variations across countries and time periods—and what can explain these consistencies and/or variations? And lastly, what kinds of existing theories (e.g., of representation, culture, race, globalization) might be drawn upon to help explain, understand, critically apprehend the nature of these representations in a broader view.

Panel 8: Exploiting Natural Resources and Migrant Labor

Saturday, Nov. 13, 12:30–13:30 EST
Sunday, Nov. 14, 00:30–01:30 Thailand

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Moderator: Edna Wangui, Department of Geography, Ohio University


Akarath Soukhaphon

University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Remembering the Mun: The Role of Women in Constructing Networks and Memorials of Resistance to the Pak Mun Dam”         

The Pak Mun Dam in northeastern Thailand continues to be a contested site of resistance for many of the local villagers who rely on the river and its tributaries for their livelihoods. While the character and scale of the resistance have changed, the fight endures. The past 30 years have produced lasting memories of lost social and environmental landscapes that continue to rally and galvanize certain groups amid growing resignation. Here, I focus on the role of women and memory in constructing geographies of resistance against the Pak Mun Dam. Examining two annual memorial events, the boon wai alai ha wanida lae phuean nak to soo ruam kan (or “boon mot”), which is focused on honoring past dam protesters, and the liang luang liang wang ceremony, designed to celebrate important upriver fish migrations, and the (net)work of Sompong Wiangchan, whose leadership is partly responsible for the organizing the events, I contend that resistance to the Pak Mun Dam continues in different and scaled down ways that have gone underappreciated. The Pak Mun Dam and its social and environmental impacts have been well recognized, and both men and women have played important roles in the resistance against the dam. In drawing out more explicitly the role of women in the memorializing of Mun River and the resistance to the Pak Mun Dam, we see how women have directly shaped the politics of memory surrounding the dam and the resistance movement against it.


Ian Baird

University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Going Organic: Challenges for Government-Supported Organic Rice Promotion and Certification in Thailand”

There is increasing interest in organic lowland rice cultivation in Thailand. Farmers are becoming more wary about the human health impacts associated with using herbicides and pesticides. They have also become more concerned about the negative environmental impacts of agricultural chemicals, and rice consumers, including farmers themselves, are increasingly demanding rice cultivated without the use of chemicals. There is also more interest in accessing international and local organic rice markets. With the above in mind, in 2017 the government of Thailand’s Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives rolled out a project designed to promote the conversion of one million rai (160,000 hectares) of lowland rice farms from non-organic to organic over a three-year period. They intended to do this by subsidizing farmers 2,000, 3,000 and 4,000 baht (US$67, US$100 and US$133) per rai for the first, second and third years of the project. The objective is to help meet the increasing demand for organic rice in Thailand and abroad, and to support small-scale farmer desires to successfully ‘go organic’. Although the initiative was well intended, it has faced serious obstacles due to the organic certification standards associated with the project not aligning with international standards. Here it is contended that the program has actually negatively impacted the structures that support organic farming, by giving farmers unrealistic expectations regarding what is required to produce organic rice for the international market, and not delivering on promises related to marketing rice produced through the project, ‘certification nationalism’ has negatively impacted farmers.


Matan Kaminer

Martin Buber Society of Fellows, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

“Karmic reciprocity and the social reproduction of Thai migrant labor in Israel”

Israel’s agricultural sector is heavily dependent on the labor-power of Thai migrant workers from Thailand, primarily men from Isaan. Building on fieldwork among migrants and employers in Israel and migrants’ families in Thailand, as well as on Marxist-feminist social reproduction theory, my paper will argue that migrants and their spouses understand both their own conjugal relationships and the employment relation as consisting of mutual obligations governed by the rule of karmic reciprocity. Under this vernacular Buddhist rubric, in the words of a worker, “when the other feels good, we feel good”: problems in any relationship can be addressed fruitfully through redoubled commitment to the performance of one’s own role, in the hope that the partner will respond in kind. Conversely, angry or violent reactions to mistreatment can trigger a further deterioration in the relationship and a cycle of suffering that then becomes increasingly difficult to break. As an implicit ideology which naturalizes hierarchical relationships, karmic reciprocity thus contributes both to the production of vegetables on Israeli farms and to the reproduction of the families which provide these farms with a stable stream of disenfranchised labor-power. At the same time, it identifies a fundamental truth about human relationships and provides subaltern actors with practical tools for dealing with the suffering engendered by distance from home and harsh exploitation. I end by suggesting that a radical interpretation of the dharma can help not only to manage such socially engendered suffering, but to identify its causes and eliminate it.

Panel 9: Ethnic Minorities & Guardians of the Court

Saturday, Nov. 13, 13:40–14:55 EST
Sunday, Nov. 14, 01:40– 02:55 Thailand

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Moderator: Catherine Cutcher, Center for International Studies, Ohio University)       


Katherine Bowie

University of Wisconsin

"Eunuchs in the Courts of Siam."

Unlike Europe, Asian courts were characterized by the presence of harems whose members ranged from empresses to eunuchs. Viewed comparatively, the harems of the Theravada Buddhist courts of mainland Southeast Asia differed significantly from those of the Chinese, Mughal and Ottoman empires. This talk reviews the evidence regarding the role of eunuchs in the courts of Ayutthaya and Bangkok.


Bao Xiong

University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Hmong society, patrilineal and polygamous, widely regards the female gender as the inferior one and as such infidelities committed by men are commonplace. I built my master’s research on this issue, namely the polygamous practices of Hmong men that were committed across border. Because of conflicts caused by transnational marriages between already married Hmong American men and young Hmong Thai/Lao women, the larger Hmong American community portrayed Hmong Thai/Lao women as either calculated women who want money and a chance to live in America or as unintelligent women who can be easily manipulated by older Hmong American men. My Master’s thesis filled this knowledge gap of transnational marriage in the Hmong population. Although my original plan prior to the pandemic was to travel to Thailand and Laos to conduct field research to understand Hmong Thai and Hmong Lao women about their reasons for marrying Hmong American men, I have to shift the focus of my master’s research and conducted in-depth interviews with two Hmong women: Ka, who lives in Minnesota, and Mai, who lives in Wisconsin. Ka and Mai (pseudonyms) were originally from Thailand and married Hmong American men. Through these interviews, my preliminary findings revealed that both women expressed different reasons for choosing to marry their husbands: career advancement opportunity, family influences, and love.


Micah Morton

Northern Illinois University

“The Buffalo Skin Written Word: Contested readings of the loss and return of the written Akha word in the Thai-Burma borderlands”

Indigenous histories of the loss and return of the written word are common throughout much of Upper Mainland Southeast Asia. The desire for literacy and narratives of Christian conversion are often interwoven in many of these histories. As relative newcomers to both Christianity and the desire for literacy, however, indigenous Akha communities in the Thai-Burma borderlands offer a unique vantage point from which to reassess existing scholarship on the cultural politics of orality and the written word. In this paper, I discuss three divergent histories of the loss and return of the written word as found among Akha Old Traditionalists, Neo-Traditionalists, and Baptist Christians. I consider the ways in which these divergent histories speak to each group’s respective project to reimagine Akhaness in a modern yet authentic fashion. I further discuss how these Akha cases build on and complicate recent scholarship on the cultural politics of orality and the written word by James Scott, Jean Michaud, and others.   


Alexander Woodman

University of Salford, School of Health Sciences, Manchester, UK

“The Social Ecological Model Applied to Reduce HIV Stigma among Burmese Migrants in Chiang Mai, Thailand”

This research aimed to study the impact of HIV status on feeling intimidated, fear of losing their job, or career growth among HIV-positive Burmese living in Chiang Mai.
Methods: The target population was HIV-positive Burmese (n = 30), mean age 31, from Saraphi Hospital, Chiang Mai Province, Northern Thailand. The questionnaire included questions on socio-demographic, socio-economic status, lifestyle, the experience of social stigma, self-stigma, discrimination, protection of rights.
Results: The majority (96.6%) disagreed with statements that their HIV status affected their participation in family activities. Furthermore, 90% rejected the idea that they were verbally harassed, intimidated (93.3%), physically assaulted (100%), psychologically hassled (90%), or discriminated against by other HIV-positive people (96.7%). Almost no one attributed their HIV status as the reason for a refusal for career growth (96.7%).

However, family planning services (FPS) and education for children were most prone to HIV stigma. More than 43% of families did not get access to FPS because of their HIV status. In addition, about 27% of families have expelled their children from school or refused admission to the school.

Panel 10: Politics & Inter-disciplinarity

Saturday, Nov. 13, 15:05–16:05 EST
Sunday, Nov. 14, 03:05–04:05 Thailand

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Moderator: Ian Baird, Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Madison


Chalermsilp Chalearmsanyakorn

The University of Edinburgh

"Refabricating the Trans-Religious Realm. Spatial Politics in the Thai Millenarianism: Huppha Sawan, 1966-1991”

This project is an interdisciplinary examination using various disciplines, including history, religious studies, and political science. Aimed at studying spatial politics on the physical landscape of Huppha Sawan, the researcher primarily examined political campaigns in the hegemony between the Thai military authorities and Samnak Pu Sawan (SPS) between 1966 and 1991 through decoding the construction of meaning and, simultaneously, the dismantling of the refabrication of such the landscape at Pha Suea Mob. Addressed to the systematic presentation, the researcher used descriptive research methods and collected evidence using qualitative data, analyzing, synthesizing, and verifying data according to the historical approach. Those involved in these methodologies are Henri Lefebvre, Etienne de la Boetie, Raymond Williams, and James C. Scott. The research results revealed that defeating the government is to use religious institutions as a tool, although the acquisition of power would be unlawful or immoral to innocent citizens. Kosolkitiwong established a ‘religious kingdom’ without the army's suspicion or obstruction by generating a robust political network with General Thanom Kittikachorn and other elites who feared the communist threat. However, when entering a period of political transition, the military rebranded its image to gain public confidence, using pro-democratic policies. The cult thus asked for international cooperation, rather than domestic power, to allow the government to fully realize the status of Huppha Sawan as an ‘independent state’ under the so-called ‘World government’. However, overly blatant resistance ultimately allowed the government to eliminate the power of the cult and the representation of resistance in Huppha Sawan.


P. Mike Rattanasengchanh

Midwestern State University

“U.S.-Thai Relations and Democracy”

For much of the modern history of U.S.-Thai relations, the United States has tried to balance democracy and security, with the latter mostly taking precedence. During the Cold War, the United States sought to keep Thailand anticommunist by supporting various military governments. Democracy was an afterthought, though the United States purported to promote it. After the Cold War, other strategic concerns replaced communism, specifically the rise of China. By examining the Cold War period and the years 2014 to the present, we can see a pattern in U.S. foreign policy towards Thailand. This essay draws on archival work in the U.S. and Thailand, along with recently published sources to focus on U.S. policy during the Cold War and the 2014 to the present. Drawing parallels between challenges the U.S. government faced during the Cold War and recent events, I argue that the United States has pursued an unbalanced policy between security and democracy and will continue to do so to protect its interests.


Pittaya Paladroi-Shane & Jeffrey Shane

Ohio University

Animated Short Film Screening: “The New Adventure of Hanuman,

Produced in 1957, the New Adventure of Hanuman (หนุมานเผชิญภัยครั้งใหม่) is an animated short film, adapted from the Thai version of the Ramayana (Ramakien). A reprise of the great Indian epic, in the New Adventure of Hanuman the monkey king battles against the sinister forces of communism, led by the evil demon king, Thotsakan. The New Adventure of Hanuman is illustrative of USIS anti-communist propaganda in the 1950s and '60's.

Payut Ngaokrachang, a talented, young cartoonist from a small town in Prachuap Kirikhan province, was hired by the USIS in the 1950s to work on animated propaganda films. The USIS paid Payut $400 and sent him to work on animation projects at the Walt Disney Studios in California. Payut completed work on the animated film, New Adventure of Hanuman in 1957.

Special Session: Research Materials on Thailand

Saturday, Nov. 13, 16:15–17:15 EST
Sunday, Nov. 14, 04:15–05:15 Thailand

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Moderator: Larry Ashmun (University of Wisconsin Libraries, University of Wisconsin-Madison)


Ryan Wolfson-Ford

Library of Congress

"Researching the Thai collection at the Library of Congress."


John Grima, John Hartmann, Thomas Hudak

“Personal Letters of Jit Phumisak in the Gedney Collection at University of Michigan”

The presentation will consist of a description of letters written by Jit Phumisak to William J. Gedney in the several years after Gedney returned to the United States from Thailand, while Jit struggled to recover from the events that had forced him to take a leave of absence from the Faculty of Arts at Chulalongkorn. We will report on the circumstances under which they were written, briefly summarize the contents, describe where they are held and how to access them, and speculate on avenues for follow-up.

John Hartmann, Emeritus Professor

Northern Illinois University

“Journeys to Keng Tung, a Web Preserved Exploration of the Fabled Tai-Kheun City State in Upper Burma”

The purpose of this presentation is to draw attention to a project hosted on the Center for Burma Studies website to retrace two quite different journeys from Chiang Rai, Thailand to Keng Tung (Keng Tung), Burma separated by over a century. The first such journey was an official expedition in 1887 led by a British military spy, G. J.Younghusband and his four assistants with the mission of discovering a route through Siam/Thailand to conquer the city. A brief diary of his month-long journey From Chiangrai to Keng Tung, The Trans-Salwin Shan State of Kiang Tung, discovered by David Wyatt, can be read in full on the website. The second journey was undertaken in 2010 by John Hartmann, with the guidance of Thai historian Dr. Ratanaporn Sethakul. One of her major research interests was the history of the failed attempts by Rama III and Rama IV, to conquer Keng Tung, first in 1802, and then in 1852 and 1854, well before Younghusband’s 1887 spy mission.

Hartmann shares some of his photos of Keng Tung environs and its peoples, and speculates on the origin and variety of city walls, in particular at Chiang Mai and Chiang Tung or Keng Tung and their relationship to the traces of the Lahu ruins in Chiangmai and the Pyu remains at Sri Ksetra, in upper Burma.

Panel 11: Thai Language Empowered

Saturday Nov. 13, 17:25–18:40 EST
Sunday, Nov. 14, 05:25–06:40 Thailand

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Moderator: Pittaya Paladroi-Shane (Center for International Studies, Ohio University)


Janpanit Surasin

University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Report on the On-going Progress of the Council on the Advancement of the Thai Language Instruction (CATI)”

Since the founding of CATI in September 2017, teachers of Thai language at various institutions in the US have been actively collaborating and their efforts were realized under the leadership of the Southeast Asian Language Council (SEALC). A four-member executive committee was voted in and took office in August 2019. CATI members fully participated in the projects sponsored by SEALC, including the development of ACTFL Thai Oral Proficiency Guidelines in 2019-2020, Heritage & Project-Based Language Learning (2020-2021), and the Publication Workshop (2020). On February 13, 2021, the executive committee held the inaugural membership meeting in which they announced the recent OPI Guidelines for Thai to be publicized on the official website of SEALC. Since its inaugural meeting, CATI started to publicize progress of Thai language instruction to non-native speakers of Thai to areas outside the US and welcome new members from other parts of the world. Later, CATI successfully held a business meeting to discuss the draft of CATI’s By-laws and the 2nd online meeting featuring various standards of Thai language oral proficiency interview guidelines: ILR, CEFR, Chulalongkorn University’s and ACTFL/ SEALC. In addition, CATI collaborated with the Royal Thai Embassy organizing a speech and Thai handwriting contest among students enrolled in Thai at the Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute at University of Wisconsin-Madison during the summer of 2021. Another collaborative effort of CATI was brainstorming for various strategies to campaign for administrative and financial support for the continuation of the Thai language program at University of California-Berkeley.


Kanjana Thepboriruk

Northern Illinois University

“Between the lines: Identity and belonging in the Thai translation of Letter for Black Lives”

Chinese American ethnographer Christina Xu launched the first iteration of Letter for Black Lives (LBL) on July 6, 2016 as a resource for Asian Americans to use when talking to loved ones about the fatal shooting of Philandro Castile, a 32-year-old Black man, by Minnesota police. The shareable google document eventually grew into twenty-seven crowdsourced translations. In June 2020, volunteer translators were once again recruited for the LBL project in order to update the 2016 Letter in reaction to the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, who died while being arrested by four Minnesota police officers on May 25, 2020. Thai was one of fifty-two languages used for translating the 2020 version. The 2020 Thai LBL translation team comprised of eight volunteer who collaborated on seven rounds of translations as prescribed by the LBL organizers.

This study examines the ways in which the team of volunteer Thai language translators navigated their own identities, the collaborative translation process, and the linguistic and cultural challenges of producing the 2020 Thai Letters for Black Lives. The discussion focusses on the ways that translators’ identities and stance informed the translation process, translation choices, and the end product. In particular, the study examines how the translators perform their identities, especially Thainess, during the metalinguistic discussions that were essential to the translation task and translation process. The findings contribute to and widen our understanding of Thainess and what it means to be Thai in diaspora.

Jenjit Gasigitamrong


“Wanthong, the Series: A Feminist Look at Khun Chang Khun Phaen, Is it?”

The appearance of Wanthong, the Thai TV series, last year stirred quite an excitement among audiences, especially those who called themselves, “modern” or “feminist”. One thing that attracted this author was the title. This TV drama was based on the well-known Thai folk literature, Khun Chang, Khun Phaen. Obviously, the producer used the main female character as the title of the drama whereas in the classic work, it’s the names of two male characters. This paper is an attempt to analyze whether the TV drama had done a justice for Wanthong, the main female character as they loudly announced in the tile by using a comparative analysis between the TV drama and the classic work, as well as another film that attempted to modernize the classic piece.


Holly Young
Northern Illinois University

“Thai-English Code-Mixing & Code-Switching on The Woody Show: “Your Thai is Getting Better!”

This study attempts to identify reasons why Thai bilingual speakers code-mix and code-switch Thai and English in spoken discourses, drawing upon the theoretical frameworks of Myers-Scotton (1993) and Woolard (2005). Data was collected from a 30-minute Thai language interview on The Woody Show between two Thai celebrities. Both interview participants—the show’s host, Vuthithorn 'Woody' Milintachinda, and Lalisa ‘Lisa’ Manoban, a member of the K-pop group Blackpink—mixed Thai and English intrasententially (Code-Mixing (CM) per Muysken 2000) and intersententially (Code-Switching (CS) per Woolard 2005). Woody and Lisa are both native Thai speakers who are fluent in English and whose dominant language is Thai; however, as Lisa lives and works in South Korea, she uses Korean more often than Thai in her everyday life. Methods of analysis involved transcribing the interview and eliciting and categorizing salient patterns of, and motivations for, CM and CS. Analysis revealed that Woody and Lisa’s primary motivations included emphasizing and clarifying meaning, expressing emotion, and building camaraderie. Additionally, Woody and Lisa employed distinct patterns of CM and CS. Woody consistently code-switched by repeating English expressions in Thai, while Lisa code-mixed by incorporating English exclamations and single words within Thai expressions. These findings suggest that Thai bilingual speakers utilize CM and CS for a variety of reasons and that different patterns of use may correlate with specific motivations. Furthermore, the results of this study support Myers-Scotton’s (1993) Matrix Language Hypothesis, with expressions in English (the Embedded Language) following the structure of Thai (the Matrix Language).

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Jane M. Ferguson

“The Winds Above Suvarnabhumi: Airline Indigeneity in Mainland Southeast Asia”

Saturday, Nov. 13, 19:00– 20:00 EST
Sunday, Nov. 14, 07:00–08:00 Thailand
Sunday, Nov. 14, 11:00–12:00 AEDT

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Introduction by Dr. Patrick Barr-Melej, Interim Executive Director, Center for International Studies, Professor of History.

Dr. Ferguson headshot
Dr. Jane M. Ferguson
Senior Lecturer

BA (Antioch), MA (Cornell), PhD (Cornell)
Senior Lecturer, School of Culture, History & Language
College of Asia and the Pacific
The Australian National University

Areas of Expertise
  • Anthropology
  • Social and Cultural Anthropology
  • Air Transportation and Freight Services
  • Asian Cultural Studies
  • Historical Studies
Research Interests
  • Mainland Southeast Asia Burma/Thai/Shan 
  • Borderlands 
  • Insurgency 
  • Ethnic politics 
  • Popular Culture 
  • Digital media 
  • Musical genres 
  • Passenger Aviation




Ferguson, J. (2020). Hijacking Area Studies: Ethnographic Approaches to Southeast Asian Airlines. SUVANNABHUMI: Multi-disciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies., 12(2), 225-244.


Ferguson, J. (2020). Pearl Tears on the Silver Screen: War Movies and Expanding Burmese Militarism in the Early Independence Years. In Gaik Cheng Khoo, Thomas Barker and Mary J Ainslie (Ed.), Southeast Asia on Screen: From Independence to Financial Crisis (1945-1998) (1st ed., pp. 75-92). Amsterdam University Press.


Ferguson, J. (2020). Spitfires Sprouting in the Burmese Spring: The Real-life Quest for Historic Fantasy Aircraft in Contemporary Myanmar. TRaNS: Trans-Regional and National Studies of Southeast Asia, 8(2), 135-146.



Ferguson, J., & Ayuttacorn, A. (2019). Air Male: Exploring Flight Attendant Masculinities in North America and Thailand. The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, 20(4), 328-343.



Ferguson, J. (2018). Buddhist bomb diversion and an American airman reincarnate: World War folklore, airmindedness and spiritual air defense in Shan State, Myanmar. Cultural Geographies, 25(3), 473-489pp.

Ferguson, J. (2018). Flight school for the spirit of Myanmar: Aerial nationalism and Burmese-Japanese cinematic collaboration in the 1930s. South East Asia Research, 26(3), 268-282.

Ferguson, J. (2018). Nativity Seen in the Anthropocene: Contemporary Field Work and Subjective Challenges. Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, 19(3), 189-196pp.

Ferguson, J. (2018). Progress for Whom? And for what? A special issue of the journal of Burma studies: Editor's note. Journal of Burma Studies, 22(2), vii-xii.

Ayuttacorn, A., & Ferguson, J. (2018). The sacred elephant in the room: Ganesha cults in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Anthropology Today, 34(5), 5-9pp.



Ferguson, J. (2017). Discreet to excrete in the concrete jungle: women bike messengers and their inventive urban strategies in three US cities. Gender, Place and Culture, 24(1), 85-96.

Ferguson, J. (2017). Ponle a tu religion musica de rock: el ritual budista shan y el escenario para el esectaculo de las festividades en una zona en disputa en la frontera entre Tailandia y Birmania (Rock your religion: Shan Buddhist ritual and State-Show Revelry in a Contest. In John A. Marston (Ed.), La Antropologia de las fronteras de tailandia como espacios de flujo (Anthropology of Thailand's Frontiers as Fluid Spaces) (1st ed., pp. 105-132). El Colegio de Mexico.

Ferguson, J. (2017). Reconsidering World Wars Won (and Two): Recent Books About Burma and Southeast Asia in the Context of Great Wars. Journal of Burma Studies, 21(2), 413-417pp.



Ferguson, J. (2016). Ethno-nationalism and Participation in Myanmar: Views from Shan State and Beyond. In Renaud Egreteau and Francois Robinne (Ed.), Metamorphosis: Studies in Social and Political Change in Myanmar (1st ed., pp. 127-150). NUS Press - National University of Singapore.

Ferguson, J. (2016). I Was Cool When My Country Wasn't: "Mao" and "Deng" Making Transnational Music in the Golden Triangle. Asian Music, 47(2), 114-137.

Ferguson, J. (2016). Yangon Airport Tower Communications Worker. In Jeffrey Samuels, Justin Thomas McDaniel, Mark Michael Rowe (Ed.), Figures of Buddhist Modernity in Asia (1st ed., pp. 18-20pp). University of Hawai'i Press.

Ferguson, J. (2016). Yesterday Once More: Tracking (un)Popular Music in Contemporary Myanmar. Journal of Burma Studies, 20(2), 229-257.



Ferguson, J. (2015). Who's Counting? Ethnicity, Belonging, and the National Census in Burma/Myanmar. Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde (Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia and Oceania), 171(1), 1-28.

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Editor, Journal of Burma Studies:

Panel 12: Law Making, Symbols of Power, and Foreign Intrigue

Saturday, Nov. 13, 20:10–21:10 EST
Sunday, Nov. 14, 08:10–09:10 Thailand

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Moderator: Micah Morton (Department of Anthropology, Northern Illinois University)


Kongsatja Suwanapech

Faculty of Law, Thammasat University

“In the Name of 'the Greatest Benefit of Siamese People': the Localisation of Utilitarianism and Legal Change in Siamese Absolutist State”

In pre-modern Siam, the localized version of the Law of Thammasat stood as a premise to justify the roles of King in law-making. At the age of western colonialism, as Siam was under crypto-colonial condition, the local rulers sought to consolidate their authority within their Kingdom, notwithstanding political and economic subjugation to the colonial powers. On one hand, the Siamese rulers who were the agency of Siamese/Thai modernity needed to mobilize resources to the center and modernize the country in order to catch up ‘the West’. On the other hand, they also preferred to preserve the status quo of benevolent Buddhist supreme King in his Siamese mandala domains. In this regard, the Thammasat was no longer efficient to serve the monarch’s blueprint for the state reform. Instead, some western ‘legal scaffolding’ which was thought to be more well equipped to the master plan. On one hand, the rulers preferred the compatible concept to justify the roles in law-making as the old Thammasat. This presentation will begin by offering an observation on the concept of utilitarianism which was the prevalent subject of discussion in the nineteenth-century legal change phenomenon. Next, it will discuss how Siamese local elites understood, appropriated, and trans-culturalized the peculiar concept of being ‘for the greatest benefit of people’ into Siamese soil to serve their motives ‘to hunt two hares with one dog’. Finally, the impacts of the localized utilitarianism on the legal change and formulation of Thai modern legal regime shall be underlined.


Patcharapong Kulkanchanachewin

Silapakhorn University

"The early stage of Chakri Maha Prasat complex and Transformation of hierarchical architecture in Siam" 

This paper present the study of Royal Residences in Royal Grand Palace during the early period of King Chulalongkorn (A.D.1868-1875), before the building of Chakri Maha Prasat Throne Hall. The focuses are on early developments of the complex of Chakri Maha Prasat Royal Residences, and on how Western-style architecture was adopted for the design of the Siamese royal residences. The argument put forward in this study is that while, on the exterior, Chakri Maha Prasat Royal Residences complex looked Western, their interior and its function showed preservation of traditional hierarchy and appropriation of westernize custom, as can be seen in building complex layout similar to traditional Royal Residences such as Pra Maha Montien in Royal Grand Palace.

The result will lead to a better understanding of Chakri Maga Prasat Throne Hall and the adoption and assimilation of both western-style architecture and its function during the early period of King Chulalongkorn.


Ruetaitip Chansrakaeo

Valaya Alongkorn Rajabhat University

“The Makassar Revolt during King Narai the Great: Conflicts of Foreign Settlement”     

The purpose of this study is to examine the Makassar revolt during King Narai’s reign as the outcome of conflict among foreign settlements in the Ayutthaya Kingdom. Historical approach was used as the methodology of the study. The researcher employed documentary research as the tool of this study. Historical accounts related to the context of King Narai’s reign, and the profile of Makassar insurgents were collected, analyzed, and discussed by the researcher. Analytical themes were based on the conflict analysis concept which was consisted of three components – profile of the conflict, actors, and causes. This study was found that the discontent among Makassar and other European settlements was the source of this conflict escalating to the revolt by the Makassar. The trigger event started from the expanding role of Christian European servants of King Narai especially the French diplomats. The revolt started in Ayutthaya and then moved to Bangkok. At Ayutthaya, 17 Europeans were killed. In Bangkok, 366 Siamese and Europeans were killed. The revolt was not succeeded as planned by the insurgents. The key lesson of this revolt is about the emerging conflict from the diverse groups of the foreign settlement who came to Ayutthaya with different reason and was driven to the violent conflict by the discontent with the King’s decision and position toward his favorite group of the foreigner.

Panel 13: Thai Literature

Saturday Nov. 13, 21:20–22:20 EST
Sunday, Nov. 14, 09:20–10:20 Thailand

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Moderator: Emmanuel Jean François (Patton College of Education, Ohio University)

Chanakan Wittayasakpan

Chulalongkorn University

"Extra-Thai-restrials: Exploring Alien Identities in Thai Science Fiction Novels"

"Though science fiction is among marginal and understudied genres of Thai literature, Thai writers have harnessed its power to imagine alternate worlds and compel readers to introspect. As both science fiction and postcolonialism share a focus on otherness, alien beings in the genre are often created based on the colonial discourse of the Other. Under the dominant narrative that Siam/Thailand was the exception to Western colonization, the question regarding how Thai writers imagine alienness and alien encounters arises, that is, whether it is similar to or different from that of imperialist writers. This paper aims to answer the question by investigating three science fiction novels by Thai prominent writers which present encounters between Thais and extraterrestrial beings: Kukrit Pramoj’s Ka Wao Thi Bang Phleng (1989), Thommayanti’s Thip (1994), and Chutharat’s Sood Khop Chakkrawan (1997). I examine the three novels in light of postcolonial theories and focus on how Thai characters position themselves in relation to alien beings. I assert two propositions. First, alien beings represent and symbolize the West, thus reflecting the ambivalent relationship between  Westernness and Thainess during the modernization of Thailand. Second, in order to assert the higher status of Thainess, alien figures become a tool to metaphorically exoticize the West and portray that, though technologically superior, non-Thais are morally inferior. The encounters with alien beings thus also serve as a process in which the protagonists realize and define their Thai identity."


Peeriya Pongsarigun & John Viano

InterThaiMedia LLC, Chulalongkorn University

“Translating Classic Thai Literature”

Thai classic literature is studied at every Thai school and is well-known among the Thais because they have been taught to recite it. However, Thai classic literature, for example, Khun Chang Khun Phaen or the Story of Phra Aphai Mani, is not internationally recognized. The two main reasons for it are: difficulty in translating classic literature and challenges in translating poetry. A classic translation of a classical epic text is a multifaceted performance of the target culture (Saba 2018) because the time periods are different, resulting in incompatibility in cultures and beliefs. Therefore, translating Thai classic literature is twofold: understanding it in the 17th-18th century context of Thailand and expressing it in the target language. Moreover, classic Thai literature is often written in epic poems and it is challenging to transfer the beautiful rhymes and tones of Thai into another language. The tones need to be woven into rhyme schemes and there is nothing anyone can put into an English translation to convey it (Chitakasem 1987). This presentation will share our experience, challenges, and success in translating parts of Thai classic literature for DoubleSpeak, University of Pennsylvania's premier translation journal.

Vera Ivanova

A. M. Gorky Institute of World Literature of the Russian Academy of Sciences; HSE University

“Allusion as a Stylistic Device in Nirat Poems”

An allusion is one of the most used types of intertextual inclusions, which Thai poets actively applied in nirat poems. As an implied, direct/indirect reference to a well-known or familiar person, place or event, an allusion can be identified as an important and essential feature of the author's style of nirat poetry. Through an allusion, Thai poets of the nirat poems enhanced an influence on the emotional sphere of the listeners’ and/or readers’ psyche in order to evoke in the recipients’ mind certain emotions that the authors needed. As a rule, it was feelings of loneliness, longing, disappointment, loss, a lamentation of love in nirat poems. Besides, it can be noted that language successfully performed the so-called emotive or "expressive" function in nirat literary works through the allusive inclusions. In the course of the study, it was possible to identify the following types of allusions in nirat poetry: literary allusion, mythological allusion, and religious allusion. At the same time, it turned out that the most frequently used allusive inclusions were allusive proper names and allusive realities. For example, in "Kamsuan Khlongdan", stanza 103, the poet referred to the names of Sida (ษีดา), Suthanu (สุทธนู) and Jiraprapha (ประภา) in order to convey to the readers how bad the main character (the poet himself) felt because of separation with his beloved. An allusion in nirat poems was, and still remains a kind of "encoded" information, and certain backgrounds and special knowledge were required from readers and/or listeners to decode it. 

Thai-American Filmmakers Roundtable

Saturday, Nov. 13, 22:30– 23:45 EST
Sunday, Nov. 14, 10:30–11:45 Thailand

Register here

Moderator: Kanjana Thepboriruk (Department of World Languages and Cultures, Northern Illinois University)


Kanjana Thepboriruk

“Thai-American Filmaker Roundtable”

Scholars and students of Thai studies, film, and the arts are welcomed to look through the lenses and behind the scenes with Thai American filmmakers Champ Ensminger (Yai Nin, 2020) and Christine T. Berg (Wonder Buffalo, 2017). This roundtable is a film screening and a discussion with the filmmakers on these two deeply personal films and their experiences as Thai American filmmakers on peripheries of filmmaking and Thainess. Kanjana Thepboriruk (Northern Illinois University) moderates the discussion.

Champ Ensminger is a Thai American filmmaker born in Chiang Mai and raised in Spokane, Washington. After graduating from the University of Washington in Seattle with a degree in comparative literature and anthropology, he moved to New York City, where he worked at the video hosting site Vimeo and then as a freelancer and production assistant at the web agency m ss ng p eces. He returned to Chiang Mai in 2013, where he spent time as a volunteer and workshop instructor at Documentary Arts Asia, a nonprofit aimed at bringing agency and exposure to Asia-based media artists. Ensminger recently earned the Emerging Artist Fellowship at the Jacob Burns Film Center. He is currently at the agency World Famous in Seattle, creating content for brands like Microsoft and Amazon.

YAI NIN is a documentary short film about a Thai businesswoman and family matriarch, Ninlawan Pinyo – the director Champ Ensminger’s ‘yai,’ or grandmother. She is the proprietor of a brand of Thai sausage made in Chiang Mai, and has lived above her factory her entire life. The film depicts Nin at her home in Chiang Mai, watching over her factory while interacting with her family in America through technology. While her relationship with her children – all now American with their own kids – is strained by distance, she takes on the role of mother figure for the workers and caretakers that live and work around her.

Christine T. Berg was born in Bangkok, Thailand, raised an army brat in Germany, and served eight years as a Russian and German linguist, signal warfare specialist, and Blackhawk helicopter crewmember in the American Army. She holds an MFA in Film and Television Production from USC.

Christine co-wrote BURNING SANDS, a Netflix Original feature film that premiered at Sundance 2017 as part of the U.S. Dramatic Competition. It was one of five independent films financed by Netflix as part of their initial global indie strategy and is currently streaming on Netflix.

WONDER BUFFALO was developed by Christine and her partner Simon Shterenberg at the Writers Guild Foundation Military Veterans Writing Program.  The virtual reality version was a finalist in the Television Academy’s new juried Emmy category for 2017 – Innovation In Interactive Programming.

Christine and Simon’s upbringing and life experience fuel their inspiration for writing projects with diverse cast, cross-cultural differences, social and political effects on daily lives, indomitable female point of views, all with a daring edge and dark humor that pushes at our comfort zone.

WONDER BUFFALO is a live-action coming of age story that follows an overweight first-generation Thai American teen who dreads her duties as a daughter. She runs away from home to attend a local cosplay event at her favorite comic book store. Along the way, in her imagination she battles monsters, superheroes, and annoying school bullies, ultimately preparing her for a battle against her most powerful nemesis—her mother.

Kanjana Hubik Thepboriruk is a linguist and an historian. Her work examines the notion of Thainess and its various manifestations, transmissions, regulations, and definitions in Thailand and in diaspora, in the past and in the present. She is an assistant professor of Thai language in the Department of World Languages and Cultures and an associate of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Northern Illinois University.