Countering ‘Plastic Addicted Subjects’: Power, Essentialized Identities, and Expertise in Thailand
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Year of Publication
Master of Arts (MA)
Arts and Sciences
Dr. Betsy Beymer-Farris
Thailand is considered one of the six most significant contributors to marine plastic pollution in the world. This has led to widespread media attention and condemnation of Thai people as “addicted to plastic,” with little attention paid to how such discourses actually take shape. Drawing from semi-structured interviews with Thai regulatory institutions, grassroots environmental organizations, plastic industry representatives, and recyclers, I analyze the social, political, economic, and environmental processes that shape Thailand’s plasticscapes. I propose a feminist political ecology of plastic waste which attends to people’s lived experiences and perspectives, power relationships underlying discourses that inform the issue, and Thai activisms. Following feminist ethnographic scholarship on the importance of situated knowledges that challenge dominant forms of expertise, I complicate current understandings by revealing that discourses across all groups interviewed center Thai consumption, often drawing on environmental tropes of Thainess, while decentering other potential sources of waste such as plastic waste imports. Meanwhile, findings suggest that those in power are reticent to alleviate the plastic pileup through measures that would challenge plastic production. Grassroots environmental organizers calling for strengthened regulatory measures struggle to find a voice in large-scale environmental improvement schemes. Therefore, I argue that proposed solutions must incorporate grassroots voices.
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This study was supported by the University of Kentucky Department of Geography's Barnhart-Withington Research Awards in 2019 and 2020.
Meyer, Olivia Carter, "Countering ‘Plastic Addicted Subjects’: Power, Essentialized Identities, and Expertise in Thailand" (2021). Theses and Dissertations--Geography. 74.