Rolling hills

ACCESS Seminar: Chronopolitics of crisis: A historical political ecology of seasonal air pollution in northern Thailand


Geographers' engagements with environmental crises have taken a number of forms. Some scholars argue that crises judgments are revelatory and expose the contradictions of modes of production through interruptions to socio-economic life that can no longer be ignored. Others contend that crises judgments conceal more than they reveal through the framing of crisis as “error” and the focus on technocratic solutions to political-economic problems. In this article, we argue that the judgment of seasonal air pollution as a crisis is contingent on contestations over livelihoods and worldviews, and in doing so demonstrate how attention to chronopolitics reveals the nuanced ways people account for uncertainty in the causes and effects of anthropogenic environmental change. Based in northern Thailand, the paper focuses on what is described by many residents as the region's annually recurring “haze crisis”. In recent decades, broad shifts from subsistence farming to commercial agriculture and increased volumes of agricultural biomass burning have reportedly exacerbated the production of air pollution in the form of haze—an airborne mixture of pollutants that includes gasses, fine soot particles and carbon dioxide. Once a quotidian phenomenon of relatively little concern, today seasonal air pollution is described as a haze crisis. While causal uncertainty exists surrounding the precise combination of the socio-ecological drivers of haze production, multiple narratives circulate throughout the region, in which blame is frequently placed on smallholder farmers who have recently entered into new market relations. Situated within broader regional agrarian transitions, we draw on mixed ethnographic, archival and geospatial methods to examine the chronopolitics of seasonal air pollution and by what mechanisms such pollution comes to be constituted as a crisis.


Mary Mostafanezhad is an associate 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. Her current National Science Foundation and Henry Luce Foundation funded research examines the political ecology of seasonal air pollution in northern Thailand and the socio-ecological implications of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Southeast Asia, respectively. She has also published widely on the political economy of tourism in Southeast Asia. She is 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.