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Südostasien- Kolloquium: Dr. David Malitz

Wann 05.06.2019
von 18:00 bis 20:00
Wo Seminarraum (Werthmannstr. 10, 1.OG)
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"Picture-Book Democracy: Teaching Authoritarian values in Thai 'Democracy-Picture-Books' for Preschool Children"


While Thailand underwent a period of democratization in the 1990s, which saw the introduction of democratic institutions, the country's educational system has remained authoritarian in its organization and in regard to the values taught in its schools. The rejection of democratic institutions and processes by an educated middle-class in Bangkok in the early 21st century, can be explained by this mismatch between formal institutions and values. But it also points to the existence of a hybrid discourse which merges authoritarian values with the key terms of the discourse of democracy introduced from abroad.After all, the demonstrations and election boycotts leading to the military coups in 2006 and 2014, ostensibly aimed to enable reforms to install a more true or fuller democracy.

This paper introduces and discusses a previously unnoticed medium for an on-going authoritarian socialization in Thailand: Picture books on democratic government for preschool children published by private companies. Around the world, picture-books attempt not only to entertain, but also to educate. In democratic societies this includes values, which are regarded as the basis for a functioning democracy. What differentiates the genre of Thai 'democracy-picture-books' from broadly similar educational picture-books in for example in Germany or Japan, is that they explicitly refer to democracy in their titles. Furthermore, they ostensibly attempt to explain and teach democracy, rather than to simply teach values, which preschool children can relate to such as teamwork or respect for others. It is argued here that for two reasons this genre actually serves to perpetuate authoritarian values. First, the Sanskrit/Pali-derived word for democracy (prachathippatai ประชาธิปไตย) is by far the longest and most complicated word to be found in these books, which unsurprisingly and appropriately for the vocabulary of their audience, mainly use monosyllabic Thai-words. The term is furthermore neither translated into more accessible Thai nor is it explained. Arguably, democracy therefore acquires a mysterious, if not magical, nature rather than being introduced as a topic, which can be understood and discussed rationally.

Second, democracy is not presented as a way to overcome or manage social conflicts. Rather it is consistently argued that before a democracy can be successfully established, everyone has to know and discharge their duties. Rights in contrast are not mentioned. For democracy to work, there can be nor conflicts in society.


Dr. David Malitz is a member of the BALAC Faculty of Arts at the Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok.