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Citizen Designs: City-Making and Democracy in Northeastern Thailand
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Citizen Designs: City-Making and Democracy in Northeastern Thailand (Hardback)

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What does it mean to design democratic cities and democratic citizens in a time of mass urbanization and volatile political transformation? Citizen Designs: City-Making and Democracy in Northeastern Thailand addresses this question by exploring the ways that democratic urban planning projects intersect with emerging political aspirations among squatters living in the northeastern Thai city of Khon Kaen. Based on ethnographic and historical research conducted since 2007, Citizen Designs describes how residents of Khon Kaen's railway squatter communities used Thailand's experiment in participatory urban planning as a means of reimagining their citizenship, remaking their communities, and acting upon their aspirations for political equality and the good life. It also shows how the Thai state used participatory planning and design to manage both situated political claims and emerging politics. Through ethnographic analysis of contentious collaborations between residents, urban activists, state planners, participatory architects, and city officials, Eli Elinoff's analysis reveals how the Khon Kaen's railway settlements became sites of contestation over political inclusion and the meaning and value of democracy as a political form in the first decades of the twenty-first century. Elinoff examines how as residents embraced politics to enact their equality, they inspired new debates about what good citizenship might mean and how democracy might look and feel. The disagreements over citizenship, like those Elinoff describes in Khon Kaen, reflect the kinds of aspirations for political equality that have been fundamental to Thailand's political transformation over the last two decades, which has seen new political actors asserting themselves at the ballot box and in the streets alongside the retrenchment of military authoritarianism. Citizen Designs offers new conceptual and empirical insights into the lived effects of Thailand's political volatility and into the current moment of democratic ambivalence, mass urbanization, and authoritarian resurgence.

Eli Elinoff is senior lecturer of cultural anthropology at Victoria University of Wellington.

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