Regular readers will recall that back in mid-March, Andrew and I made a post titled “A Thai Studies Boycott?“. It asked some questions of the 2008 Thai Studies conference to be held at Thammasat University in Bangkok. That post was prompted by a New Mandala reader who proposed a boycott of the conference.

Shortly afterwards we followed that initial post with an update on the discussion that exploded here and elsewhere. In response to these discussions Chang Noi penned a balanced article on the proposed boycott. The Nation‘s elephant argued that the mere “call for a boycott signals something important…[about] what can be said inside and outside the country”.

The issue has now been highlighted again by an open letter Thongchai Winichakul has written to “friends who are interested in the Thai Studies conference 2008”. It is available in full from the Thai-Laos-Cambodia listserve archive.

He writes (my emphasis added):

I assume that you have heard the call for a boycott of the conference. I am not convinced by the boycott call, but I realize that there is no absolute reason either way. The purpose of this message is not to argue about it. It is for those who will attend, to ask you to help make the event as worthwhile as we can in this circumstance.

The April 15 deadline for submission is approaching. I am sure that it will be extended, as usual. But we should take the matter seriously. A good presence of these panels that are critical to the current situation would send a strong message to the Thai public and would reflect the concerns of our academic community. These critical panels/papers, I believe, are the better way to respond to the coup/ post-coup Thailand.

Peter Bell and Jim Glassman are organizing a panel on the Sufficiency Economy. We need more papers/ panels that are critical to the coup, the military, Prem, the undemocracy, the new and old constitutions, the judiciary, the Crown Property Bureau, the super-conservative cultural trend and the “Cultural Surveillance” Department, the call for Buddhism as the National Religion, widespread censorship of internet accesses, the crisis among Thai intelligentsia, Thai-style democracy, the “Yellow Fever”, and the past, present and future of the monarchy, and more. The panels/papers may not be exactly about the current situation but address the various aspects related to or help us understand those current issues.

Thongchai’s full letter is definitely worth a read. New Mandala readers who remain unconvinced by the call for a boycott may want to join Thongchai and support his effort to attract more critical papers and panels to the conference.

Thongchai also writes:

I had an opportunity last week to talk to the organizer of the ICTS10. They confirmed that the conference is an academic event and those proposals would be accepted. Ji Ungpakorn’s proposal against the coup was already accepted. There is no plan for a special celebration of anything beyond a typical Thai event of this scale – such as the opening by the Princess. How reliable those words are — it is up to us to test.

Unlike Thongchai, New Mandala has yet to receive a reply to our enquiry regarding the “academic” nature of the 2008 Thai Studies conference. This was, for obvious reasons, one of the key concerns raised by the proposer of the boycott.

Thongchai has now suggested a list of topics for a concerted “anti-boycott”. He advises putting critical energy into using the Thai Studies conference to debate the kinds of issues that are so often discussed here on New Mandala.

So, what do New Mandala readers think of Thongchai’s list of possible panels and topics? Are there any other potentially controversial Thai Studies issues that are just crying out for some serious academic scrutiny? Is anybody here going to get involved in this effort?

As always, your thoughts and comments on this important issue are very welcome.