Article

Chronopolitics of crisis: A historical political ecology of seasonal air pollution in northern Thailand

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Abstract

Geographers' engagements with environmental crises have taken a number of forms. Some scholars argue that crises judgments are revelatory and expose the contradictions of modes of production through interruptions to socio-economic life that can no longer be ignored. Others contend that crises judgments conceal more than they reveal through the framing of crisis as “error” and the focus on technocratic solutions to political-economic problems. In this article, we argue that the judgment of seasonal air pollution as a crisis is contingent on contestations over livelihoods and worldviews, and in doing so demonstrate how attention to chronopolitics reveals the nuanced ways people account for uncertainty in the causes and effects of anthropogenic environmental change. Based in northern Thailand, the paper focuses on what is described by many residents as the region's annually recurring “haze crisis”. In recent decades, broad shifts from subsistence farming to commercial agriculture and increased volumes of agricultural biomass burning have reportedly exacerbated the production of air pollution in the form of haze—an airborne mixture of pollutants that includes gasses, fine soot particles and carbon dioxide. Once a quotidian phenomenon of relatively little concern, today seasonal air pollution is described as a haze crisis. While causal uncertainty exists surrounding the precise combination of the socio-ecological drivers of haze production, multiple narratives circulate throughout the region, in which blame is frequently placed on smallholder farmers who have recently entered into new market relations. Situated within broader regional agrarian transitions, we draw on mixed ethnographic, archival and geospatial methods to examine the chronopolitics of seasonal air pollution and by what mechanisms such pollution comes to be constituted as a crisis.

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This work takes a close look at disasters and the response of victims in the immediate aftermath and over the long-run. It demonstrates how disasters arise from human propensity to take risks which make them vulnerable to cataclysms, whether natural or technologically related. This collection is the first to adequately represent the cultural, historical and geographical scope and complexities of the problem of disaster. It introduces a range of perspectives and arguments, with compelling examples.
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How, and when, does it become possible to conceptualize a truly planetary crisis? The Cold War nuclear arms race installed one powerful concept of planetary crisis in American culture. The science enabling the US nuclear arsenal, however, also produced unintended byproducts: notably, a radical new investment in the earth sciences. Cold War nuclear science ultimately produced not only bombs, but also a new understanding of the earth as biosphere. Thus, the image of planetary crisis in the US was increasingly doubled during the Cold War – the immediacy of nuclear threat matched by concerns about rapid environmental change and the cumulative effects of industrial civilization on a fragile biosphere. This paper examines the evolution of (and competition between) two ideas of planetary crisis since 1945: nuclear war and climate change. In doing so, the paper offers an alternative history of the nuclear age and considers the US national security implications of a shift in the definition of planetary crisis from warring states to a warming biosphere.
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The development of domestic (or national) tourism in Thailand in the second half of the 20th century relied on a new kind of relationship between the state and local cultures. Rural spaces have been reinvented and transformed into appealing visual and conceptual archetypes which sustain discourses on both local and national identity and history. Thai tourism allows a kind of pacification of the relations between the centre and the periphery, but it also perpetuates an internal colonialism, both towards Tai and non-Tai populations. This article investigates the social significance of domestic tourism in Chiang Mai and the links between non-Western representation of travel, nationalism and localized identity. It focuses on three attractions scattered along the road going up to the mountain of Suthep (Doi Suthep), one of the most famous tourist destinations in northern Thailand: a Buddhist temple, a royal palace and an ethnic village. These three attractions provide crucial insights into the history of domestic tourism in Thailand: its similarities to and differences from previous forms of travel, its relations to the idealization of the rural and its role in the pacification of the relations between the Thai state and its geographic and social margins.
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Farmers and herders in Madagascar depend on fire to help them prepare cropfields and maintain pastures, but burning contributes to land degradation and loss of unique habitat. Farmers and herders have long been at odds with state authorities trying to control the use of fire. Natural resource conflicts such as this fire stalemate are difficult to resolve because they are shaped by many factors, including their wider ecological and political contexts.
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Though not officially considered a 'policy' by the Lao government, resettlement of ethnic minorities has become a central feature of the rural development strategy in Laos. Over the past ten years, a majority of highland villages have been resettled downhill, and the local administrations are planning to move the remaining villages in the coming years. This article draws on a national survey about resettlement in Laos, commissioned by UNESCO and financed by UNDP, that was undertaken by the authors. It focuses on the consequences of these huge shifts of population and on the social and cultural dynamics that underlie them. It shows that the planned resettlements, which are intended to promote the 'settling' of the highland populations by enforcing the ban on slash-and-burn agriculture and opium growing, actually cause increased and diversified rural mobility. This in turn complicates the implementation of the rural development policy and the political management of interethnic relationships. In other words, the 'settling' process promoted by the State, because of its broad and often tragic social consequences, can paradoxically generate unplanned or unexpected further migrations, which could be called 'resettlement-induced forms of mobility'
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Emerging post-development literatures consider how post-structural and post-colonial critiques of development could form the basis for new kinds of development practices. Much of the search for such post-development possibilities draws on new theories of discourse. This paper considers the challenges of bringing together empirical research and the experience of doing development with the often ethereal and deeply speculative work of discourse theorists. I reflect on the course taken by my own research in Northern Thailand, and discuss the possibilities that can emerge as theory confronts empirics, and conceptual frameworks are transformed through the daily politics of fieldwork.
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Recent developments in air pollution epidemiology are generating new data on human air pollution exposure and health effects in the city. Based on regression mapping or land use regression (LUR), these data also provide a new window on the urban political ecology of scale. Air pollution itself is understudied in the emergent urban political ecology literature and in this case it is aided by – indeed must rely upon – GIS/spatial analysis. A case study of Vancouver illustrates the scalar contradictions in regulatory versus LUR measurements and estimates leading us finally to consider the wider implications for urban political ecology and environmental governance.