In recent years there has been a revival of interest in networks that operate in Thailand, most especially those networks associated with the monarchy. On the latter, Duncan McCargo of Leeds University described a “network monarchy.”
In a new paper for JCA, Boston University’s Joseph Harris seeks to add some theoretical and conceptual rigour to the discussion of networks and to look at another important network. The abstract states:
Recent scholarship examining political contestation in Thailand has emphasised concepts such as “network monarchy,” while pointing to the populism and enduring political influence of Thaksin Shinawatra. While this descriptive work has helped shed light on the architecture of governance in Thailand, it has not been embedded in a broader theoretical approach that might help to train our attention on other powerful actors that play important roles in shaping Thailand’s political and institutional landscape. In this article, I outline one such approach and advance the term “autonomous political networks,” to refer to collections of people who share strong value commitments and political goals and who operate in the space between the country’s dominant political institutions – often straddling positions in the state and civil society simultaneously. This theoretical discussion is grounded empirically in a description of one such network whose power is derived from sources other than electoral legitimacy or long-standing historical tradition. The article discusses the enormous influence this network has exercised in reshaping Thailand’s political order, all while remaining largely invisible to the public eye. It suggests the need to use this approach to elaborate other hidden political networks that play important roles in governance in Thailand and beyond.