PI: Joel Selway
Evaluation of how well the academic objectives of the proposal were met
The academic objectives have been met. With the grant I was able to conduct a survey of ~1,000 subjects in Thailand. I have since presented two article-length pieces at academic conferences and am finishing off a book proposal that will be submitted this fall (2016).
Evaluation of the Mentoring Environment
I was able to take 8 students to Thailand with me. Each of them designed their own survey experiment and added it to the main survey. The students gained experience in survey design, including learning the Qualtrics software. They also gained experience in administration and accounting. Students stayed in Thailand for three months and were also able to engage in qualitative interviewing.
List of students who participated and what academic deliverables they have produced or it is anticipated they will produce
6 of the students presented a poster at a national political science conference in Chicago in April, 2016. One of the projects was turned into an honor’s thesis. Another was a capstone for the women’s study major. Two of the students are far enough along that they will try and publish their article with me. I also brought three students back with me to Thailand this past summer for follow up work on their projects. This was unrelated to MEG funding, but was a direct result of working with them in that environment.
Description of the results/findings of the project
The project had a general aim to understand the competing national and ethnic identities in Northern Thailand, one of Thailand’s four regions. The North is inhabited by the Lanna ethnic group, an ethnic cousin of the majority Siamese, whose former independent kingdom was annexed to the country as late as 1899. Lanna is a crucial region to understand in contemporary Thai politics because the last four democratically-elected prime ministers (since 2001) that Northerners voted for were removed from office by non-democratic means. Two of those four were themselves prominent Northerners. A political crisis now envelops the country, which is currently ruled by a military regime.
With the king’s health also waning, the stability of the country is of huge concern to political observers. Some have predicted a civil war along ethno-regional lines. Can the nation-building project, which started in the early 1900’s sustain the Thai people through these difficult times? Or are ethnic identities becoming politicized, potentially leading to violence?
The MEG grant helped me achieve several objectives: first, was simply measuring the strength of regional and national identities in the North, something that has not been done to date. I was also able to understand what Northern Thais mean when they think of Thai-ness and their own Northern identity as well as how this relates to political attitudes, including views of the current government, attitudes toward democracy, and the political future of the country.
However, the project had a specific aim, and that was to understand which of the various elements of Thai nationalism—religion, monarchy, language, military strength, and geographic borders—contributed the most to a strong national identity, and whether parallel elements in ethno-regionalism countered them. I examined this question through a priming experiment, after which I had subjects play games that measured their nationalism. I found that the national religion, Buddhism, has the largest positive effect, with a weaker positive effect for the monarchy, and a surprisingly negative effect for the Thai language. In contrast, regional political elites evoke strong ethnic feelings, but other elements of ethno-regionalism (language, religion) do not.
From extensive interviewing, I discovered that these various elements of ethnic and national identity have historically operated through different socio-political institutions. Both Buddhism and regional leaders are weaved into society through strong civic networks, while other elements are either promulgated solely through central government institutions, or lack institutional underpinnings altogether. The project thus highlights the institutional component in nation-building and the important role of civil society.
Description of how the budget was spent
Awards were given to some students with financial needs to offset the costs of the study abroad program. Most of the cash, however, was spent in the administration of the survey. We paid subjects approximately $10 (10×1000=10,000, which is half the budget) and then there were costs of hiring Thai facilitators and other survey-related costs.