[10/19/20] – Anti-Government Protests in Thailand

Earlier this week Thailand officials declared a state of emergency in response to growing unrest in response to a history of military and monarchy collusion in creating an austere network of social control. Protests began earlier this year in response to the prime minister’s announcement of the termination of the Future Forward Party, a pro-democracy outfit that challenges the existing status quo in Thai culture and social hierarchy. In recent weeks, protests have been growing in frequency and attendance with tens of thousands of Thai civilians taking to the streets to express their interest in changing the constitution to reduce the powers of the monarchy, decrease reliance on military forces for social control, and for the government to end lese majeste law (15-year prison punishment for critics of the government…specifically the monarchy and the prime minister). An emergency order was declared, and military forces were mobilized to end the unrest. Armed forces deployed water cannons in an attempt to deter civilians challenging the system, and the rage against the machine continues. This week, we examine the Thai protests through the lens of sociology with a focus on deviance and social control.

Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for Anti-Government Protests in Thailand

Learning Objectives

LO1: Discuss how social institutions collaborate to create and perpetuate systems of social control. 

LO2:  Evaluate the value of different forms public activism (e.g., violent vs. peaceful) and subsequent reactions of government officials (e.g., empathy vs. militarization). 

LO3: Understand the relationship between culture and the social construction of deviance. 


Thai Protests: Bangkok Set for More Unrest Despite State of Emergency

Protesters in Thailand planned a fresh rally on Thursday after Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha declared a state of emergency in Bangkok, prompting police to disperse demonstrators who surrounded his office in an early-morning raid.

Thai students protest to remove gov’t and reform monarchy

Protesters in Thailand are planning another large rally on Sunday as they continue their push to remove the government and reform the monarchy. The mainly student-led protests are calling for significant changes to the royal family’s role in society, which is considered a taboo subject in Thailand.

Thai police turn water cannon on defiant protesters

Thai police fired stinging liquid from water cannon at thousands of Thai protesters on Friday in the most violent escalation of three months of demonstrations against the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former junta leader.

Discussion Questions

What are the risks associated when outsiders are viewing the unrest in Thailand through the prism of ethnocentrism? Why do sociologists prefer to use a culturally relative view? How might the two perspectives differ in their views on the unrest in Thailand? Which do you lean toward?

Why are governments increasingly moving to creating policies and supporting existing programs that silence their critics through imprisonment and other forms of punishment? Why are more elected officials clinging to historical patterns of governance as opposed to being open-minded to changing systems that are negatively impacting their citizens?

In your opinion, how should governments respond to civilian unrest that are challenging their authority? What are the dividing lines between quelling unrest and assaulting citizens? Where do you see similarities and differences between government responses to what is happening in Thailand and current unrest in the United States?

What is the role of culture in creating and perpetuating social norms that support the existence of a corrupt government? Why is it important to consider how to change the culture of an issue when seeking to promote social change on that issue? How is culture responsible for the normalization of suppression of critical voices through threat of punishment?

What are the risks associated with gathering to advocate for social change during a global pandemic? What are the risks associated with staying home and remaining silent about issues that matter to you? Why might governments around the world be using public health as a shield to restrict public demonstrations of opposition to existing power structures?


Sociologists interested in investigating the social factors contributing to attitudes about the Thai protests at the macro-level would likely use _______ methods for the ease of collecting a data from large populations.
a. Qualitative
b. Quantitative
c. Ethnographic
d. Phenomenological

A _______ theorist would be interested in researching the question, what push and pull factors operate to influence an individual to publicly speak out against the Thai government in the face of lese majeste law?
a. Structural-Functional
b. Conflict
c. Symbolic-Interaction
d. Rational-Choice

In any culture, the social construction of _______ is often codified into law by powerful and influential people of society in an effort to control social attitudes and behavior.
a. Deviance
b. Education
c. Religion
d. Civility

Photo credit: iStockphoto.com/KreangchaiRungfamai

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