Today, Researcher in Focus had the chance to sit down and talk with Ajarn Dr. Trin Aiyara, a lecturer in charge of teaching courses in the Political Science Program’s International Relations Major. Ajarn Trin has a master’s degree in Development Economics from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom and a Ph.D. in International Development Studies from Japan’s National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS). He has finished his Doctoral dissertation, “The Rise of China and High-Speed Politics in Southeast Asia: Thailand’s Railway Development in Comparative Perspective.”
This somewhat lengthy conversation, in which we asked questions about academics, works, Walailak University, Thasala, and his favorite pastimes, may enable the reader to get to know Ajarn Trin while also discovering more about the School of Political Science and Laws. Please take the time to read this intriguing interview.
Could you perhaps begin by telling us how you came to choose political economy as your area of expertise? Also, could you inform us a little bit more about “political economy”?
I’d want to start by saying that, although I teach political science, I don’t really have a degree in political science. My degrees are all in economics, and I’m particularly interested in political economy. I attempted to figure out why, and finally concluded that it was because while I was in high school and studying for my undergraduate degree, I saw significant changes in the economy and politics. Thailand was experiencing a massive economic transformation, and the state’s institutions were altering as a result of the criteria provided by the International Monetary Fund. Thaksin Shinawatra came to represent a period in which successful policy emanated from the political side. All of this made me wonder how these political shifts effect the economy. What is the relationship between economic and political foundations?
When you ask what “political economy” is, I think of Prof. Peter Katzenstein, who came to teach me for a week during my PhD in Tokyo. He got to the logical conclusion that political economy is engaged with two major concerns at the same time: first, what are the economic foundations of political phenomena? Second, what are the political roots of economic phenomena? In other words, how do wealth and poverty relate to power?
Many of the questions arising from political economy enable us to have a greater understanding of economic phenomena. This is because the economy is more than simply supply and demand. Rather, it is the social interaction between individuals as well as the relationships between humans and resources in this planet. Political economics challenges us to explore why resources are distributed and shared in disparate ways. Meanwhile, questions from this discipline provide us with a much-improved understanding of political affairs, since politics is always about usurping or preserving the resources that are always the source of power.
Could you tell us a little bit about your PhD research? How did you construct your research argument?
My doctoral dissertation began with the question, “How does China’s growth as a global economic power influence the economies and politics of Southeast Asian countries?” Thailand serves as my primary case study. However, I believe that studying the whole phenomenon will provide me with a broad and non-specific perspective. As a result, I chose to focus my attention on a high-speed rail project or a train on a normal 1.4-meter track. I picked this project because it is one in which Chinese government agencies have been active in a number of countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Laos. Furthermore, this high-speed rail project may reveal how domestic interest groups and Chinese players interact in policy formation and resource allocation. As a result, this megaproject reveals not only the international relationship between China and our Southeast Asian nations, but also the domestic circumstances and political orientation. They may all be discovered by looking at the characteristics and accomplishments of each country’s high-speed rail projects.
My argument emerged from examining the details of each country’s high-speed rail projects. By paying close attention to the policy development process, I concentrated my research on three specific aspects: negotiation, construction, and resource mobilization. I eventually discovered that the shape of all three was the consequence of interactions between different forces within the country as well as Chinese players drawn as part of domestic resource allocation. Whether purposefully or inadvertently, I discovered that the interactions that led to the establishment of different countries’ policies were also influenced by each country’s political institutional structures. As a result, my research is not confined to railway policy alone; I must also investigate political factors, particularly institutions as a rule of the game, as well as the relationships between different players inside the country.
Can we get new insights into southern Thailand’s society by using the academic discipline in which you are interested or specialize?
Through the lens of political economy, I believe I can see a number of intriguing facets of southern Thailand’s society. However, I’m not courageous enough to claim that what I’m questioning is entirely novel since there are still limitations on my ability to understand and analyze several matters thoroughly.
First, why is the Southern region’s economy mostly reliant on agriculture, with certain tourist economic sectors in some areas, but the industrial sector stagnant? I’m asking this because, when it comes to studying modern society, the industrial sector is important since it is related with the growth of cities and enormous employment.
Second, how is the southern Thai economy connected to the economies of other areas, such as Bangkok and other parts of Thailand? Also, how does it connect to areas outside of Thailand, varying from nearby countries with shared borders like Malaysia and Myanmar to distant countries like China, the United States, or the European continent? Understanding these relationships can help us better comprehend the economic and social circumstances in southern Thailand, since the essence of the south is undeniably tied to interactions with external economic systems as well as internal factors.
Third, in terms of the south’s economic growth, there are two significant trends that are causing concern: 1) What is the shift from a self-sufficient rice-growing culture’s economy to a capitalist one based on commercial crops? 2) What is the shift from being a portion of the peninsula that served as a resting place for commodities to the period when the Thai state took control of both the assignment of tax farmers and the development of the provincial administration system? There are two sub-questions as well: 1) are these changes separated? Is there any overlap? 2) How do the explanations provided within this framework contribute to historical understanding of the South?
In order for readers to learn more about this neighborhood, what was your first impression of Thasala when you began working at Walailak University eight years ago? And how has Thasala changed since then?
I’m not sure how much of my early impressions of this location I can recollect. This is due to the fact that, despite having lived here for eight years, I spent four years in Tokyo. From the viewpoint of political economy, I felt that when I came to Thasala for the first and second time, the place had not changed significantly. I believe that the district’s dualism remains evident, and that it became much more obvious when the coronavirus problem occurred. That is, on the one hand, Thasala is a place based on the agrarian society pattern. Its economy is built on capital accumulation via the production of primary products such as gardening, fishing, animal husbandry, mining, and seafood processing, whether formal or informal. As a result, the income of the residents in this district is determined by the price of these sorts of items. Traditional norms and social networks also have a significant role in people’s relationships.
On the other hand, Thasala has Walailak University, which is a service-based economy. The district’s economy is also driven by the wages of university personnel and student spending costs. People and resources flow between these two economies, which are not clearly separated. Construction operators in Thasala, for example, have been hired by the university that utilizes its funds to undertake various construction projects, or Walailak employees and students go shopping in the market on the opposite side of the road. In their different ways, both economies are linked to the outside world. The agricultural economy is linked to national and worldwide markets for its products, while Walailak University is linked to world-university ranking classifications, which ultimately effect state budget allocation.
The coronavirus outbreak has highlighted this economic situation for two reasons. First, individuals have avoided leaving their safe areas. Second, they have become more reliant on digital technology to get access to a diverse variety of goods and services. Because of this reliance, we can see the distinct features of the two economies even more explicitly.
Should students who enroll to study with you do anything to prepare? And what do you believe are the most significant things they should take away from your class?
There are three things that I have a high demand for from students that enroll to study with me. First, you must read the academic work in English in order to develop the essential reading English abilities and to broaden your knowledge horizon. English reading skills are required for you students to access the experiences, worldviews, and knowledge of foreign people or even Thai scholars who choose to write in English because they are unable to speak freely and honestly about some subjects in Thai society.
Second, you must practice communication skills, particularly speaking and writing for the skill of delivering a message and reading and listening for the skill of receiving a message. This is not simply because these skills can help you earn better grades or perform better work; they also help you develop into a more complete human being, both in terms of receiving the messages necessary to foster understanding and empathy for others and delivering the messages necessary to present a constructive and accurate perspective.
Third, you must constantly think, analyze, and discern between things. The most critical capability in the future world is the capacity to adapt successfully. This means that considering the world around you and your personal circumstances is vital in order to create decisions that meet your requirements. I’ve taught my students analytical and critical thinking skills by assigning weekly questions, requiring them to summarize key points from viewed films, or by asking them critical questions after their presentation. Also, I believe that one way to assist students develop this skill is to offer them assignments that involve reading and obtaining knowledge and experience from various time periods and places or from societies other than Thai society. Reconnecting students with historical events is also highly successful, as is assigning them to study the American Revolution or the pro-democracy movement in Thailand in the 1970s.
Our final question, do you have any interests or hobbies outside of teaching and research that you would like to share with our readers?
Recently, my interests have included a variety of activities. First, I began studying Spanish approximately two years ago because I wanted to master a third language. I selected Spanish because it would allow me to get understanding of the Latin American region, which, despite significant differences, has several features with Southeast Asia. Simply stated, I learned this language to have a better understanding of the comparative political economies of these two areas. Additionally, I am a huge lover of South American football; having just the English language severely restricted my understanding of the issue. As many thinkers have long said, language is more than simply a means of communication; it is a tool that allows us to meet the strangeness of other people’s cultures and worldviews.
Second, I constantly take advantage of actual travel opportunities to gain a sense of the economic changes that are taking place, as well as conversations with people who teach me new things. So, on my trips, I always strive to maintain my mind open in order to immerse myself as much as possible in that place. But, at the same time, I usually attempt to ask numerous new questions in my mind when traveling. This is because asking questions in our minds helps us understand ourselves and the places we reside by comparing similarities and contrasts with other locations we are unfamiliar with. Finally, I believe that travel allows us to have a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us.
Third, I like reading fairy tales, novels, manga, and watching movies and documentaries. Doing these activities is both soothing for the brain and enables us to see the world from a different perspective in a non-stressful way. It also fosters the imagination of the world and our fellow humans. Furthermore, this kind of addictive hobby always grows the language bank in my mind; I learn both vocabulary and how to tell a story in different styles at the same time.
ที่มา : มหาวิทยาลัยวลัยลักษณ์