The Dystopia of Health Governance and Moral Rule in Post-coup Thailand

Public guest lecture by Daena Funahashi, Assistant Professor, Aarhus University

This article rethinks the presumed translatability of World Health Organization’s (WHO) health promotion models for use within particular national institutional contexts, and explores the unintended consequences of their global export. Specifically, I focus on the adoption by the Thai military government (2006-2008) of the “Health in All Policies (HiAP)” initiative, the push by the WHO to see negative health outcomes as natural limits to sustainable expansion of political and economic interests. Through my fieldwork at state-owned Thai health organizations, I explore how a dharmic concept of wisdom [panya], one that links the capacity to make “healthy choices” with differential levels of enlightenment, undergirds the Thai capture of HiAP. Building upon Isabelle Stengers’s cosmopolitcal proposal to “slow” the urge to claim a commonly understandable world, I examine how the mobilization of conservative politics in Thailand that recast individuals seeking political change as those lacking the “wisdom” necessary to protect themselves from unhealthy desires for social and economic mobility, still maintains a modern global orientation. I argue that incommensurable differences emerge in translating cosmologies of health, knowledge and expertise into “other” worlds, but that it is through keeping open such gaps in understanding that new engagements with the cosmos become possible.


Daena Funahashi is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Coordinator for the Master’s program in medical anthropology at Aarhus University in Denmark. Her research focuses upon the role of medical knowledge in applications of political power. She has written on the intersections of emergent stress disorders and shifting ideals of productive citizenship in Finland; new global health movements and the ambiguities of “the global”; and the politicization of science. She is currently completing her first book, Happy Workers: Burnout and the New Archive of Fatigue in Finland. More recently, she has joined the Centre for Cultural Epidemics (EPICENTER) at Aarhus University, where she has started on a new project that rethinks Foucauldian scholarship on biopolitics via a study of Thai adoptions of global health strategies.

All are welcome!

Part of the Southeast Asia Signature Series (SEASS)