The University of Wisconsin Press

Asian Studies / Politics / Anthropology

Thailand's Political Peasants
Power in the Modern Rural Economy
Andrew Walker

New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies
Alfred W. McCoy, R. Anderson Sutton, Thongchai Winichakul, and Kenneth M. George, Series Editors

“The first book to offer a detailed view of the socioeconomic changes underlying the tumultuous events in Thailand’s twenty-first-century politics. Andrew Walker shows why the upsurge of rural politics in Thailand cannot be ignored.”
—Chris Baker, author of A History of Thailand

When a populist movement elected Thaksin Shinawatra as prime minister of Thailand in 2001, many of the country’s urban elite dismissed the outcome as just another symptom of rural corruption, a traditional patronage system dominated by local strongmen pressuring their neighbors through political bullying and vote-buying. In Thailand’s Political Peasants, however, Andrew Walker argues that the emergence of an entirely new socioeconomic dynamic has dramatically changed the relations of Thai peasants with the state, making them a political force to be reckoned with. Whereas their ancestors focused on subsistence, this generation of middle-income peasants seeks productive relationships with sources of state power, produces cash crops, and derives additional income through non-agricultural work. In the increasingly decentralized, disaggregated country, rural villagers and farmers have themselves become entrepreneurs and agents of the state at the local level, while the state has changed from an extractor of taxes to a supplier of subsidies and a patron of development projects.

Thailand’s Political Peasants provides an original, provocative analysis that encourages an ethnographic rethinking of rural politics in rapidly developing countries. Drawing on six years of fieldwork in Ban Tiam, a rural village in northern Thailand, Walker shows how analyses of peasant politics that focus primarily on rebellion, resistance, and evasion are becoming less useful for understanding emergent forms of political society.
Andrew Walker is senior fellow in the Department of Political and Social Change in the College of Asia and the Pacific at Australian National University. He is the co-author of Forest Guardians, Forest Destroyers: The Politics of Environmental Knowledge in Northern Thailand, and the co-founder of New Mandala, an influential blog that comments on contemporary Southeast Asian politics.

See also this interview of the author from New Books in Southeast Asian Studies



“The book contains interesting evidence, analysis and insights on rural transformations and political contestation in contemporary Thailand that will be of benefit to students and scholars of Thai and Southeast Asian studies.”
—Somachi Phatharathananunth, Southeast Asian Studies

Media & bookseller inquiries regarding review copies, events, and interviews can be directed to the publicity department at or (608) 263-0734. (If you want to examine a book for possible course use, please see our Course Books page. If you want to examine a book for possible rights licensing, please see Rights & Permissions.)

Of Related Interest
Revolution Interrupted
Farmers, Students, Law, and Violence in Northern Thailand
Tyrell Haberkorn
Foreword by Thongchai Winichakul
"Tyrell Haberkorn’s courageous book tells an open-ended, evocative narrative about the violence and radicalism of the 1970s in Thailand."—Tamara Loos, Cornell University

Peasants in a rice bed

June 2012
LC: 2011042652 DS
280 pp.   6 x 9   16 b/w illus.,
8 charts, 4 tables, 1 map

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Paper $29.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-28824-2
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"An elegant and convincing account of change in northern Thailand. Walker dismantles and challenges some of the ingrained assumptions about agrarian change and its impacts on ordinary people in rural areas."
—Jonathan Rigg, author of Southeast Asia: The Human Landscape of Modernization and Development

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