Taylor Lowe

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Chicago, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 9737

Approve Date

October 23, 2018

Project Title

Lowe, Taylor R., U. of Chicago, Chicago, IL - To aid research on 'Designing Dhammacracy: An Ethnography of Design Activism and the New Thai Parliament,' supervised by Dr. Constantine V. Nakassis

Preliminary abstract: The proposed study will explore an emergent pattern in the forms of Thai politics: the conjuncture of cosmology and design activism. The central focus of this research is the ongoing design of Thailand’s new parliament building. In 2009, after the courts and military removed two elected Prime Ministers, protestors paralyzed Bangkok’s streets, and the government hosted a design competition for the country’s third parliament building. The winning team promised their design would end corruption and ‘bring unity’ by transforming Mt Sumeru, the sacred mountain at the center of the Theravada cosmos, into the parliament’s architecture. The architects called their design ‘Sappaya Saphasathan,’ which they gloss as ‘a place for dhamma and doing good deeds.’ In exhibitions, studios, print media and chatrooms, Thais questioned how dhamma, design, or their coupling could order politics. Almost a decade later, the revered king is dead, the constitution and elections are suspended, the ruling junta has criminalized dissent and the parliament is nearing completion. While the idea of political representation for Thais is both aspirational and contradictory, design activism in and against the parliament and related projects has emerged as a licit field for humans, non-humans and ‘meta-persons’ (Sahlins 2017) to intervene in Thai politics. This research will ethnographically answer two key questions: with the closure of democratic mechanisms of representation, why and in what ways has design activism opened up a cosmopolitical field for human, non-human and meta-human participation in the making of Thailand’s political futures? What are the affordances and risks that materialize as design translates competing cosmological orders into the forms, materials and discourses of new political worlds?