Description

Forest Guardians, Forest Destroyers

The Politics of Environmental Knowledge in Northern Thailand

Tim Forsyth and Andrew Walker
Foreword by K. Sivaramakrishnan

  • Published: 2008
  • Subject Listing: Anthropology, Asian Studies, Environmental History
  • Bibliographic information: 304 pp., 25 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: N / A Asia
  • Series: Culture, Place, and Nature Series
  • Contents

In this far-reaching examination of environmental problems and politics in northern Thailand, Tim Forsyth and Andrew Walker analyze deforestation, water supply, soil erosion, use of agrochemicals, and biodiversity in order to challenge popularly held notions of environmental crisis. They argue that such crises have been used to support political objectives of state expansion and control in the uplands. They have also been used to justify the alternative directions advocated by an array of NGOs.

In official and alternative discourses of economic development, the peoples living in Thailand's hill country are typically cast as either guardians or destroyers of forest resources, often depending on their ethnicity. Political and historical factors have created a simplistic, misleading, and often scientifically inaccurate environmental narrative: Hmong farmers, for example, are thought to exhibit environmentally destructive practices, whereas the Karen are seen as linked to and protective of their ancestral home. Forsyth and Walker reveal a much more complex relationship of hill farmers to the land, to other ethnic groups, and to the state. They conclude that current explanations fail to address the real causes of environmental problems and unnecessarily restrict the livelihoods of local people.

The authors' critical assessment of simplistic environmental narratives, as well as their suggestions for finding solutions, will be valuable in international policy discussions about environmental issues in rapidly developing countries. Moreover, their redefinition of northern Thailand's environmental problems, and their analysis of how political influences have reinforced inappropriate policies, demonstrate new ways of analyzing how environmental science and knowledge are important arenas for political control.

This book makes valuable contributions to Thai studies and more generally to the fields of environmental science, ecology, geography, anthropology, and political science, as well as to policy making and resource management in the developing world.
Tim Forsyth is a reader at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Andrew Walker is a fellow in the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, the Australian National University.

"Forest Guardians, Forest Destroyers succeeds in casting serious doubts on the accuracy of received ideas about the nature and dynamics of environmental change. It has important policy implications because land use regulations in Thailand appear to be based on a misunderstanding of the causes of environmental problems."
-Thomas J. Bassett, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

"The fact that northern Thailand has been studied closely by many scholars, including the authors, makes possible a rich and original synthesis. Since the region served as a buffer zone during the Cold War period, this study illuminates key processes across geographic scales in Thailand and, by comparison, in other such crucial border areas. The authors' impressive theoretical compass combines effectively with deep regional knowledge to provide a study that should spark vigorous debate about the politics of knowledge and environment."
-K. Sivaramakrishnan, Yale University

Contents
Foreword / K. Sivaramakrishnan
Acknowledgments
1. Environmental Crisis and the Crisis of Knowledge
2. Mountains, Rivers, and Regulated Forests
3. Upland People
4. Forests and Water
5. Water Demand
6. Erosion
7. Agrochemicals
8. Biodiversity
9. Rethinking Environmental Knowledge
Notes
Bibliography
Index
Reviews

"This thought-provoking book takes a fresh look at controversial political debates over the environment in Northern Thailand. . . . The book is full of detailed case studies and draws on a large amount of research to uncover the complex reality of environmental change in the North."
-Oliver Pye, Critical Asian Studies, 41:2 (2009)

"Forest Guardians, Forest Destroyers succeeds in its primary mission to destabilize commonly held assumptions about upland agriculture, especially perceived effects downslope, such as erosion, pollution, or water shortages. . . . [It] is well written, and it provides engaging, revisionist critiques that will surely generate a lot of response-especially among the many environmentalist groups active in this region."
-H-Environment

"Forsyth and Walker raise provocative questions about the environmental situation in northern Thailand. Their critical dissection of environmental narratives forces the reader to rethink assumptions. Grounded in thorough research, they offer a valuable contribution to environmental studies in Thailand. Their book is well worth reading, and it promotes thinking about the complexities of the situations they discuss . . . . they challenge how we think which is crucial to moving the social and political understandings of environmental situations forward."
-Pacific Affairs

"This is a book whose messages will resonate as commonsensical with many readers and yet will simultaneously provoke unease. . . the authors cross a number of boundaries, and they slay not a few sacred cows along the way. The book deserves to be read by all with an interest in the societal and epistemological bases of environmentalism, and all with an interest in environmental issues in Thailand. It also gives very specific and extended treatment to issues that continue to lie at the heart of environmental debates in Thailand."
-Journal of Contemporary Asia

"Tim Forsyth and Andrew Walker set forth a provocative thesis that argues against both positivist science and political ecology in the explanation of the environmental processes. [This] is a critical book that is clearly and engagingly written. In definitely offers a stimulating perspective and incisive method for going beyond the apparent conflict between livelihood and conservation in Thailand's upland."
-Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

"This is highly recommended for the cross-disciplinary student of undergraduate and graduate studies in anthropology, ecology, sociology, global studies, ethnic studies, and Southeast Asia."
-Electronic Green Journal

"In compelling prose, authors Tim Forsyth and Andrew Walker - who have deep knowledge of the conditions of the population and long experience with the challenging problems of Thailand's environmental issues - bring to the reader's attention new scholarship that revises previously held opinions on the subject of deforestation."
-Chicago Botanic Garden