EPICENTER Research Project

Political Contagion and the Problem of Mental Immunity in Thailand

Political Contagion and the Problem of Mental Immunity in Thailand

This project examines the notion of contagion in post-coup Thai political discourse. Since ousting a democratically-elected government in 2006 (and again in 2014), the Thai military has had to contend with those in the country who demand a return to the rule of law. Against such groups, the junta presented their coup as a necessary intervention against administrations that promoted economic and social policies damaging to the health of both people and land. The junta made an explicit plea for a morally-grounded politics by enlisting state-funded health organizations in a campaign to promote “mental immunity” against profit-mindedness. In turn, these health organizations re-framed this plea as a Thai version of the WHO’s model of “health-driven governance,” thus using the language of global health to justify military rule. Here, I follow João Biehl and others in exploring the unintended consequences of addressing “governance” and “health” on a global scale. Further, based on previous ethnographic fieldwork conducted with these Thai state-funded health organizations, this project also contributes to on-going discussions within medical and political anthropology on the growing relevance of the logic of immunity and contagiousness when talking about legitimacy.  What constitutes a sovereign act? When is a choice not one’s own, but the result of an “infection” from another (a problem that the Thai military characterized as endemic to democracy)? What constitutes “mental immunity?” to outside influence, and how does one really know if one is “immune?”

Contact Researcher

Daena Funahashi

Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Aarhus University

funahashi@cas.au.dk