Tort, Custom, and Karma: Globalization and Legal Consciousness in Thailand

Tort, Custom, and Karma: Globalization and Legal Consciousness in Thailand

Tort, Custom, and Karma: Globalization and Legal Consciousness in Thailand

Tort, Custom, and Karma: Globalization and Legal Consciousness in Thailand

Synopsis

Diverse societies are now connected by globalization, but how do ordinary people feel about law as they cope day-to-day with a transformed world? Tort, Custom, and Karma examines how rapid societal changes, economic development, and integration into global markets have affected ordinary people's perceptions of law, with a special focus on the narratives of men and women who have suffered serious injuries in the province of Chiangmai, Thailand.

This work embraces neither the conventional view that increasing global connections spread the spirit of liberal legalism, nor its antithesis that backlash to interconnection leads to ideologies such as religious fundamentalism. Instead, it looks specifically at how a person's changing ideas of community, legal justice, and religious belief in turn transform the role of law particularly as a viable form of redress for injury. This revealing look at fundamental shifts in the interconnections between globalization, state law, and customary practices uncovers a pattern of increasing remoteness from law that deserves immediate attention.

Excerpt

The economic boom of the 1990s brought a young man named Inta from the rice fields of northern Thailand to a factory near the city, where he operated a stamping machine making cardboard boxes. It was dangerous work and paid just 144 baht (about $3.60) per day. The brake on the stamping machine didn't function properly, and other employees had already been injured. No one, not even Inta, was surprised when one day his hand was caught in the machine and mangled beyond repair. What may be surprising, however, is the explanation he offers for the horrifying injury and his assumption about who—or what—was responsible.

Inta's injury narrative does not characterize his employer as irresponsible or greedy. In fact, he never blames his employer at all, nor does he attribute fault to the manufacturer of the defective stamping machine. Instead, he asserts that the primary causes of his injury were a ghost and his own karma. As Inta tells the story, he was riding to work one day on his motorcycle when he came on a group of villagers at the scene of an accident. He stopped to see what had happened and observed a shocking sight: the corpse of a man who had just driven his motorcycle into a banana tree and broken his neck. Inta learned that two other unnatural deaths (tai hong) had occurred in the past at this very spot, one . . .

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