Citizen Designs
310 pages, 6 x 9
12 b&w illustrations
Release Date:31 Dec 2021
Release Date:31 Mar 2021
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Citizen Designs

City-Making and Democracy in Northeastern Thailand

University of Hawai‘i Press
What does it mean to design democratic cities and democratic citizens in a time of mass urbanization and volatile political transformation? Citizen Designs: City-Making and Democracy in Northeastern Thailand addresses this question by exploring the ways that democratic urban planning projects intersect with emerging political aspirations among squatters living in the northeastern Thai city of Khon Kaen. Based on ethnographic and historical research conducted since 2007, Citizen Designs describes how residents of Khon Kaen’s railway squatter communities used Thailand’s experiment in participatory urban planning as a means of reimagining their citizenship, remaking their communities, and acting upon their aspirations for political equality and the good life. It also shows how the Thai state used participatory planning and design to manage both situated political claims and emerging politics. Through ethnographic analysis of contentious collaborations between residents, urban activists, state planners, participatory architects, and city officials, Eli Elinoff’s analysis reveals how the Khon Kaen’s railway settlements became sites of contestation over political inclusion and the meaning and value of democracy as a political form in the first decades of the twenty-first century. Elinoff examines how residents embraced politics as a means of enacting their equality. This embrace inspired new debates about the meaning of good citizenship and how democracy might look and feel. The disagreements over citizenship, like those Elinoff describes in Khon Kaen, reflect the kinds of aspirations for political equality that have been fundamental to Thailand’s political transformation over the last two decades, which has seen new political actors asserting themselves at the ballot box and in the streets alongside the retrenchment of military authoritarianism. Citizen Designs offers new conceptual and empirical insights into the lived effects of Thailand’s political volatility and into the current moment of democratic ambivalence, mass urbanization, and authoritarian resurgence.
Citizen Designs is a fascinating and detailed ethnographic account of the citizenship struggles and political engagements of residents living alongside the main state railway running through the city of Khon Kaen, in the Isan region of Northeast Thailand. While most scholarship on urban evictions and dispossession tends to portray land struggles as a kind of Manichean battle between good (the residents) and evil (the dispossessors), Elinoff shows how every group of people itself contains multiple subgroups, all coming at the matter with different agendas, ideas, and political sympathies. Erik Harms, Yale University
Eli Elinoff is senior lecturer of cultural anthropology at Victoria University of Wellington.
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