In 2017, there will be at least three major international academic conferences in Thailand:
- The 13th International Conference on Thai Studies (ICTS), hosted by Chiang Mai University, 15-18 July 2017 (deadlines for proposals: 30 August 2016 for panels, and 30 November 2016 for individual papers);
- The 10th International Convention of Asian Scholars (ICAS) by the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), hosted by Chiang Mai University, 20-23 July 2017 (deadline for proposals: 10 October 2016);
- The 2nd Conference for Southeast Asian Studies in Asia, by the Consortium for Southeast Asian Studies in Asia (SEASIA), hosted by Chulalongkorn University.*
As the academic atmosphere in Thailand becomes more difficult and our colleagues in Thailand face troubles every day, some scholars may consider boycotting these events. Another approach to support our colleagues in Thailand is to make these events as vibrant, academically rigorous and critical as possible, to help push the boundaries of debate further.
But to do the latter, it is time to put the following questions to the organisers of these conferences:
- What will the hosts and the partnering international organisations (ICAS/IIAS and Chiang Mai Univerity; Chulalongkorn University and the SEASIA Consortium) do if a panel or paper proposal is academically qualified but it is potentially unacceptable to the Thai authorities – such as proposals on the military, the coup, the monarchy, or Article 112? Can the hosts and the partnering international organisations guarantee that they will not censor a proposal for political reasons?
- Are the hosts and the partnering international organisations willing to deal with the Thai authorities to help guarantee academic freedom and freedom of expression?
- While I assume that the international organisations would not deny their responsibility — to leave the host institutions face trouble by themselves — I hope they would also keep a close eye on the conduct of the host organisations. Can these international organisations ensure that the program committees will not be dominated by pro-junta people? Can they give assurances that the hosts will not make these academic events part of an institutional agenda which is unacceptable to the international community of scholars, such as to celebrate the junta, the coup or the monarchy?
I hope the organisers will hear this open message posted on New Mandala. I believe that the community of international scholars of Asian, Southeast Asian and Thai Studies deserves a clear response in the public space so that individuals can make decisions about these upcoming events and deadlines. The organisers should not write to me directly in private. For transparency, it would be best if they responded here on New Mandala.
* Note: ICAS and the SEASIA Consortium made their decisions to hold their events in Thailand at their respective meetings in 2015, long after the coup in May 2014. For the ICTS, there is no international body partnering with the host (CMU) and the decision in favour of Chiang Mai was made at the ICTS meeting in Sydney in April 2014.
Thongchai Winichakul is Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.