Science, Modernity, and the Colonial Encounter: Rethinking Biotechnological Interventions in Thailand’s Elephant Trekking Industry
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This paper will analyze the integration of biotechnologies in conservation strategies, law enforcement, anti-trafficking efforts, and wildlife tourism through an investigation of Thailand’s elephant trekking industry. The conditions of Asian elephants in Thailand is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s most challenging conservation cases, existing at the nexus of pressing animal welfare, labor, national development, and ecological considerations. My paper will call upon a social-historical approach to analyze how biotechnologies as tools of valuation in the complex space of elephant trekking have been historically assembled through colonial-capitalist expansion in Thailand. I will argue that the invocation of biotechnology as an “objective” force in this case effaces issues of social inequality, and in doing so isolates the issues of the trekking industry from larger struggles for social and environmental justice. My objective is to highlight the urgent need to address instances of environmental degradation as connected and at times dependent, upon the exploitation of working-class people.