I am currently working on an edited collection that examines contemporary ideas about “community” in the Thai/Tai world. Tentatively titled “Modern Tai Community”, the book is an attempt to rescue the concept of “community” from its immersion in notions of tradition, subsistence livelihoods and local wisdom. All too often “community” is seen as standing opposed to the modern state and the capitalist market. Modern Tai Community will explore the ways in which community is creatively reworked in modern political and economic contexts.

A rather traditionalist approach to community was present in Thailand’s 1997 constitution. In the much cited Article 46 “rights to participate in the management, maintenance, care and use of benefits from natural resources and the environment” were granted to “persons assembling as an original local community.” These “original local communities” were also given rights to preserve their customs, traditions, local knowledge and culture.

There has been in interesting shift in the proposed post-coup constitution. The draft Article 65 appears to grant the same rights as the previous Article 46. But the wording in relation to community is broader. “Original local communities” are granted these rights but so too are “local communities” and just plain old “communities.”

I have no idea if this broader wording would have any more effect than the rather impotent (and misguided) Article 46. But it does represent a small sign of common sense in a constitutional drafting process that seems to be spooked both by the ghost of Thaksin and the power of the electorate.

Who knows, there may even be a glimmer of acknowledgement amongst Bangkok’s wise elite that the culture to be “preserved” or “revived” by “communities” may be broad and dynamic enough to include coyote dancers, mobile phones and even, god forbid, political opinions.