Accepted paper:

Looking Thai, acting Thai: embodiment of Thainess among stateless Shan youth in northern Thailand


Janepicha Cheva-Isarakul (Victoria University of Wellington)

Paper short abstract:

Grounded in an 11-month ethnographic research on the lifeworlds of stateless Shan youth in urban Chiang Mai, this paper explores how Thainess are corporally and literally instructed and how these youth strategically use this embodiment to their advantage in the real world outside school.

Paper long abstract:

For stateless youth in Thailand, public schools represent both space of normalization and differentiation. On the one hand, school provides a "protected zone" where their identity as students supersedes their statelessness and where in theory they achieve equal status to their Thai peers. On the other hand, school is instrumental in reinforcing state's ideals of Thainess that exclude non-citizens such as themselves. At once space of exclusion and inclusion, school is where the body, mind, and emotions of stateless youth are simultaneously trained to perform citizenship habitus and master "the techniques of the (Thai) body".

Grounded in my 11-month-PhD ethnographic research on the lifeworlds of stateless Shan youth in urban areas in Chiang Mai, this paper conceptualizes the body of stateless youth as both a political locus of state's version of citizenship and a personal expression of agency. In exploring how daily rituals and public performances of citizenship conducted in Thai public schools shape the body, movement and performance of Thainess among stateless Shan youth, I call the attention to the state-crafted "aesthetic citizenship". I also aim to reveal how stateless youth apply these techniques of the (Thai) body acquired in school as strategies for survival and self-protection as they spatially navigate the city. I argue that these strategic performances of "aesthetic citizenship" presents a critical paradox: on a personal level it demonstrates agency but on a macro level, it perpetuates the Thai state's project of exclusion.

panel P38
Embodied rituals, symbols and performances: embodiment as a negotiation of the state, and state negotiations of embodiment