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The political ecology of illegal logging in Thailand : forest exploitation, violence, and anti-politics Lewis, Sophie Rose


Policy definitions of illegal logging are anchored in national forest governance institutions. However, extensive scholarship finds that national forest governance institutions stemming from the colonial era undermine customary rights to forest landscapes, adversely impacting Indigenous Peoples. Through a post-structural examination of the state and sovereignty, this dissertation interrogates illegal logging as a discursive construction concerned with the appropriation and continual reproduction of boundaries and rules over land and resources. In doing so, this dissertation reveals that operations of sovereign power and state institutions perpetuate historical and current forest degradation, resource inequities, and violence within Thailand's State forests. The dissertation's findings are drawn from historical analyses and ethnographic fieldwork undertaken during 2018-2019 in Thailand. First, I found that throughout the 20th century, legal and illegal logging were ordinary constitutive components of state-capital relations which served to enrich powerful actors in state bureaucracies and their private sector allies, further driving widescale forest exploitation. Second, I detail the localized subjugation of a Karen Pwo Indigenous community, located within a National Reserved Forest bordering Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in western Thailand, who lack substantive legal land and resource rights. I found that state actors' continued governance and maintenance of State forests, justified through civilizing ideologies, facilitated the imposition of sovereign power over such tenure-insecure communities by state and state-supported actors. The enforcement of forestry laws resulted in constrained livelihoods and violent dispossession via illegal logging, associated with forced labour and drug addiction. Third, I found that the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance, and Trade, Voluntary Partnership Agreement negotiation process between Thailand and the European Union failed to address embedded inequalities in Thai forest governance structures that benefit elites at the expense of the rural poor. Through an examination of political logics, I showed how actors from the government and private sector succeeded in structuring the terrain of negotiations to minimize civil society demands for reforms to local people's land and timber rights. I conclude that the maintenance and (re)production of Thailand's State forests, advanced through national and international policy efforts, obscures and renders banal the resultant and continuing violent dispossession of Indigenous Peoples.

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