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2022-2023 Colloquium Series

The Tourism Studies Working Group is pleased to present

Particulates Politics: Tourism, Air Pollution,
and Socio-Environmental Crisis in Northern Thailand

Mary Mostafanezhad
Professor, Geography and Environment,
University of Hawai'i at Mānoa

Friday, October 28, 4PM-6PM PST

Hybrid Presentation
In Person: Gifford Room, 221 Anthropology and Art Practice Bldg.
University of California, Berkeley

Also hosted on Zoom: join here
*no password needed

Between February and April of each year, a pall of toxic haze blankets much of northern Thailand and impacts the lives and livelihoods of approximately 60 percent of the population working in the tourism and agriculture industries. In this presentation, I tell the story of socio-environmental struggles surrounding seasonal air pollution. Chiang Mai (the capital of the north) and the surrounding Lanna region boast an internationally renowned tourism industry that attracted more than four million international tourists in 2019. Lanna, glossed in tourism literature as the land of a million rice fields, is characterized by its agricultural abundance. However, over the last decade, the region’s agrarian landscape has increasingly become a site of contestation. Residents’ concern is growing over the role of the centuries-old practices of shifting cultivation and agricultural biomass burning in the production of particulate matter (PM). An airborne mixture of pollutants that includes gasses, fine soot particles, and carbon dioxide, PM is a primary cause of reduced visibility. I develop the concept of Particulate Politics to account for not only the contestations over PM and its measurement, circulation, and containment efforts but also to address how the fine-grain particulates materially and symbolically mediate social relations. Environmental narratives among lowland urban residents attribute air pollution to highland farmers’ burning practices. On the other hand, highland farmers contend that new environmental regulations have lengthened and exacerbated what residents now regard as the annually recurring “haze crisis.” As tourism goes down when the AQI increases, service industry practitioners are often central figures in urban civil society efforts to ameliorate seasonal air pollution. Through fieldwork among tourism practitioners, rural farmers, NGO practitioners, natural and citizen scientists, #righttobreathe protesters, and forest scavengers, I bring emerging work at the intersection of political ecology and science and technology studies to bear on Particulate Politics to demonstrate what happens when PM matters differently among diversely positioned social actors. By unpacking tensions between the so-called polluters and polluted in the tourism-dependent province of Chiang Mai, I address how environmental change becomes a crisis and the social implications of blame attribution for complex collective experiences of environmental change.

Mary Mostafanezhad is a professor in the Department of Geography and Environment at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Her work is broadly focused on development and socio-environmental change in Southeast Asia. Mary's book manuscript, Particulate Politics: Tourism, Air Pollution, and Socio-Environmental Crisis in Northern Thailand tells the story of social and environmental struggles over seasonal air pollution and is based on her current National Science Foundation-funded research. She is also the co-editor-in-chief of Tourism Geographies: An International Journal of Tourism Space, Place and Environment and a co-editor of the Critical Green Engagements Series of the University of Arizona Press.

©2021 Tourism Studies Working Group is an advanced tourism studies and research forum