Beyond vernacular and metropolitan concepts: Good governance, translation and word coinage in Thailand

Claudio Sopranzetti


This article explores the emergence and transformation of the concept of good governance in contemporary Thailand after the 1997 economic crisis to reveal how it morphed from a technocratic category to a moral one, central to conservative and anti-democratic discourses in the country. By reconstructing historical and contemporary debates over word coinage and translation in Thailand, this article questions the easy distinctions between “metropolitan” and “vernacular” concepts. In so doing, I propose to carve a new space for an ethnographically grounded political anthropology that neither assumes a flattened and universal conception of political categories—such as state, power, or government—nor seeks refuge into pristine “vernacular concepts” but rather explores the processes through which specific people, organizations, and institutions are constantly reworking and diffusing concepts on multiple scales while aligning, challenging, or creating “global hierarchies of value,” in the plural, along which those concepts are positioned.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/722611