‘Invisible Worldings’

Image and Reality in the Thai Seafood Industry’s Humanitarian Engagements

In: European Journal of East Asian Studies
Giuseppe Bolotta Ca’ Foscari University of Venice Italy Venice

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This article explores the interplay between image and reality in the Thai seafood industry’s humanitarian engagements with migrant labour. Revisiting Aihwa Ong’s notion of ‘worlding’ and Peter Jackson’s discussion of the ‘Thai regime of images’, it examines the situated, informal interactions between migrant rights NGO s, fishing companies and state officials in the Thai port city of Samut Sakhon, on the outskirts of Bangkok. Through ethnographic case studies, this analysis illuminates the ‘invisible worldings’ that regulate spaces of migrant workforce from behind the scenes. As I show, migrant labour NGO s operate in a context-sensitive play of appearances and disappearances, humanitarian aid and migrant forced labour, and need to navigate local hierarchies of power in the service of Thailand’s international ‘image’ (phap-lak). It is argued that ‘invisible worldings’ sustain Thailand’s ongoing leadership in the fish trade and, concomitantly, the Thai military government’s cosmetic attempts to rebuild global reputation amid growing international scrutiny.

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