First Queer Voices from Thailand: The Role of Mass Media in the Emergence of Thailand’s Modern Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Communities
Mardi 15 mars 2016 – 16h-18h – Laboratoire d’ethnologie et de sociologie comparative, Université Paris-Ouest Nanterre, bâtiment E, 1er étage, salle E 105
In this seminar I analyse mass-circulation Thai-language magazines from the 1970s to describe the diversity of the country’s modern transgender (kathoey), gay and lesbian cultures, which are among some of the oldest and largest in Asia. These sources reflect Thailand’s diverse queer cultures at a key moment in their historical development, when the mass media first communicated new understandings of homosexual and transgender identity to the wider community. I describe how a lonely hearts column forlovelorn gay men, lesbians and transgenders in the popular magazine Plaek, or “strange”, provided the basis for the emergence of modern gay, lesbian and transgender communities across Thailand. I recount the unusual story of how the sexually libertarian, but heterosexual, editor of Plaek, writing under the pseudonym “Uncle Go”, became Thailand’s first champion of queer gender and sexual rights. In the 1970s, Uncle Go’s columns in Plaek for gay men, transgender kathoeys and lesbians provided spaces in the national media where, for the first time, all of Thailand’s emerging queer communities could speak in the public domain on their own behalf. Uncle Go not only offered relationship advice and tips on how gay men and lesbians could improve their relationships and love lives. His columns were also platforms from which Thailand’s first generation of kathoey, gay and lesbian activists called for gender equality and sexual rights, and provided the foundation from which Thailand’s now flourishing gay and lesbian media would emerge in the 1980s and 1990s.
This seminar will summarise the new book of Peter Jackson First Queer Voices from Thailand, which will be published by Hong Kong University Press in April 2016.
Contacts: (1) Vanessa Manceron (Vanessa.email@example.com)
(2) Anne de Sales firstname.lastname@example.org
Royal Spirits, Magic Monks, and Chinese and Hindu Gods: Neoliberalism, New Media and Thailand’s Many Religions of Prosperity
Jeudi 17 mars 2016 – 14h-16h – Maison de l’Asie, EFEO, 22 avenue du Président Wilson, 75016, M°Iéna.
Since the 1980s, many new supernatural movements have become highly visible additions to Thailand’s spiritual landscape and religious marketplaces. Indeed, the growing prominence of supernatural cults and magical ritual in Thailand and other Southeast and East Asian societies is perhaps one of the more unexpected trends in religious life since the end of the Cold War. Seeking supernatural guidance and support to achieve success, wealth and prosperity in Thailand’s expanding economy, these movements are only tangentially related to orthodox Theravada Buddhist teachings and practice. The new cults of prosperity in Thailand draw on a diverse pantheon of deities and include cults of magical amulets, spirit possession involving Chinese, Indic and Thai gods, a cult of the monarchy, as well as divination based on astrology, numerology and Thai versions of tarot cards. These diverse cults have continued to grow in popularity despite the setback of the 1997 Asian economic crisis and the intense political conflicts that have destabilised Thai society over the past decade. In this seminar I summarise the many new religious movements that have developed in Thailand since the end of the Cold War, and relate this phenomenon to the combined influence of both rapid economic development and new communication media. I argue that this diverse phenomenon challenges both the “secularisation thesis” and the equation of modernity with the rationalisation and disenchantment of social life. We need to develop new theories of the place of religion in the market-based and mediatised urban societies of 21st century Asia.
Contact – Vanina bouté @gmail.com>
avec Bénédicte Brac de la Perrière
Spirits of Power in 21st Century Thailand: Magic and the Supernatural at the Centre of Political Authority in Thailand
Jeudi 24 Mars 2016 – 9h30-12h30 – Centre Asie du Sud-Est,190 avenue de France, 75013 Paris, 6e étage.
There is a growing anthropological literature on the resurgence of supernatural cults in Thailand, and also in Myanmar and Vietnam. However, in contrast, political studies have largely overlooked the significance of this phenomenon, with much current research on politics and religion in Southeast Asia focusing on the rise of fundamentalist movements in Islam and Buddhism. In this seminar, I describe how Thai politicians, senior business figures, military and civilian bureaucrats, as well as members of the royal family, have become increasingly visible participants in new forms of supernatural ritual that emerged during Thailand’s period of rapid economic growth in the 1980s and 1990s. Since the turn of the new century, many of these new supernatural cults have moved rapidly from the socio-cultural margins to the centre of national religious practice, and have been incorporated within state projects under the aegis of Theravada Buddhism. I reflect on why, despite strong critiques of “superstition” and “black magic” by many modernist Thai thinkers, new forms of supernatural ritual have nonetheless become central to the exercise of political authority in Thailand, both for the national government in Bangkok and also for provincial administration in the country’s regions. I argue that a strategy of appropriating popular cults for state projects and the rise of a cult of the monarchy, supported by an intensely policed and increasingly enforced lèse majesté law, are key influences in this phenomenon. I also propose that understanding why political and business elites in this ostensibly “globalising” Southeast Asian society employ new forms of supernaturalism in their contests for influence and power requires an interdisciplinary approach that combines insights from anthropology, religious studies, cultural studies, history and political science.
Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Communities in 21stCentury Thailand: Intersections of Markets, Media, and Human Rights Activism
Lundi 4 avril 2016, 10h-12h – INALCO – 65 rue des Grands Moulins, 75013 Paris – salle 315
The Thai capital of Bangkok is the unrivalled centre of the country’s gay, lesbian and transgender communities. These communities are among the largest in Southeast Asia, and indeed in the world, and have a diversity, social presence and historical depth that set them apart from the queer cultures of many neighbouring societies. In this seminar I describe the diversity of gay, lesbian and transgender cultures in Thailand today, detailing their relationship to the expanding Thai economy, new media, as well as the rise of gay, lesbian and transgender NGO organisations and human rights activism. The first years of the 21st century marked a significant transition moment for all of Thailand’s LGBT cultures, with an expansion in the geographical extent, media presence, economic importance, political impact, social standing, and cultural relevance of Thai queer communities. I analyse the roles of the market and new media in these transformations, and consider the ambiguous consequences that the growing commodification and mediatisation of queer lives have had for LGBT rights in Thailand. A key finding is that in the early 21st Century processes of “global queering” are leading to a growing Asianisation of Bangkok’s queer cultures. Indeed, in recent years, Bangkok has emerged as a geographical focus of expanding regional networks that now link gay, lesbian and transgender communities in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and other rapidly developing Asian societies.
This seminar will be based on Peter Jackson 2011 book Queer Bangkok: 21st Century Markets, Media and Rights (Hong Kong University Press).