Title: Constructing Order Through Chaos: A State Ethnography of the Thai Police
Name: Eric Haanstad
ejhaanstad@wisc.edu
Year: 2005
Type: Dissertation Fellowship
Summary: Using the police as central performative agents, this project examines how in 2003 the Thai state constructed the appearance of order through four interrelated methods: spectacular ritual displays, performances of violent coercion, assertions of economic dominance, and covert/overt informational control. It argues that these four interwoven methods rely on the state’s attempt to manage chaos and manipulate disorder. In the year I conducted my primary fieldwork in Thailand, three major police-led campaigns of state order were used to create and maintain the Thai state: the Drug Suppression Campaign (or War on Drugs), the War on Dark Influences (a three-month campaign against corruption/crime), and the emergent War on Terror.

The 2003 War on Drugs served to entrench the illegal economies it purportedly attempted to eradicate, ensuring a reoccurrence of drug-induced disorder. The War on Dark Influences allowed government officials to target mafia-like figures, certain sectors of the underground economy, and “opinion leaders” – anyone from “godfathers” (chaopho) to NGO workers and academics. The Thai War on Terror began with a series of anti-terror executive decrees and the arrest of Riduan Isamuddin, a.k.a. Hambali. Thailand’s terror narrative was reproduced and expanded in the service of preparations for the unprecedented security control grid for the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in October. The rising state obsession with the threatening chaos of terror and counter-terror throughout 2003 contributed directly to the dramatic rise of violence in Southern Thailand. In turn, the violent excesses, unchecked governmental corruption, and security obsessions of Thaksin’s police-friendly government were employed as justification for the military regime that seized power in 2006, ushering in more than a year of nation-wide martial law. Thus, this state ethnography dissects an unprecedented period of Thai state history in which the police, the ubiquitously influential but theoretically overlooked agents of the state, were central actors in the state construction of order through chaos.