Experiencing and Knowing in the Fields
: How Do Northern Thai Farmers Make Sense of Weather and Climate-change?

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Recent studies from the social sciences and humanities have interrogated the construction, spatialisation and governance of global climate knowledge through offering accounts of the intimate human-weather-landscape inter-relationship. This approach is currently lacking in Thailand, where the National Climate Change Master Plan’s adaptation and communication strategies are largely infrastructurally-oriented, and science-driven, respectively. To rectify this situation, in this study a group of Tai Yuan (Khon Muang) farmers in Nan province, Northern Thailand, were selected to explore with them their weather experiences and interpretations, through a 13-month-long ethnographic study, a focus group, and a series of photo-elicitations. To answer how facts and ideas of climate-change were mobilised, framed, and communicated to these farmers, representatives of external climate-related organisations were subsequently interviewed.
The study found that weather was understood sensually, culturally and morally in relation to agrarian landscapes, Muang culture, Buddhist-animist beliefs, and farming practices: a winter of nostalgia; a summer of perseverance; and a rainy season of hope and fear. Unwelcoming changes in weather were believed to be local problems that required adjusting minds, worshipping deities, and reviving traditional beliefs and morality. NGOs tended to appreciate and respect these understandings by creating a hybridised local-science knowledge to empower and build resilience to external changes and injustices. Contrarily, most governmental and science-based climate organisations’ communication strategies tended to impose, upon villagers, claims of global climate knowledge through technical terms, numbers, and climate policy, thereby redefining local weather conceptualisations. This hegemonic standardised knowledge reflects a modernist ideology that places lay Thai villagers at the periphery of global climate knowledge production. The Thai government’s deforestation-maize-haze-global warming narrative exemplifies this standardised framing.
The thesis concludes that if climate adaptation projects in Thailand are to matter culturally to local people, knowledge pluralism needs to be taken into account and environmental narratives and communication strategies critically examined.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorMichael Hulme (Supervisor) & Raymond Bryant (Supervisor)

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