Professor Nam Talks State Capacity and Social Provisions in Thailand

Logan King, Maroon-News Staff

Associate Professor of Political Science Illan Nam gave a talk on Tuesday, February 19 about her research examining the functionality of bureaucracies in Thailand.

Nam said that many years of research have led to a limited understanding of the capacities of many government groups.

The original thought process on state governments was that a high capacity government, with numerous functioning bureaucracies, had strong societal groups. It is also believed to be a central state that does not use local agents to enact agendas. However, as Professor Nam said, this scenario does not ac- count for many variables, including relationships between citizens and the state.

Nam said she was excited to tackle this problem after an extended trip led to a new research opportunity. Her project looks to examine the variations in infrastructural power of agencies within states. This includes looking at how effective the state is in extractive and coercive policies, security and the provisioning of social goods for their citizens. The project assumes that capacity building is an incremental but dynamic process.

Throughout her preliminary research, Nam said she discovered that there was a big difference between two of the different bureaucracies she visited in Thailand. Organizational designs that inform bureaucratic mobility and autonomy encourage centrifugal forces. Centrifugal forces are forces that serve the agency.

There is a huge difference in Thailand between the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH), which is run by doctors, and the Ministry of Education (MOE), which is centralized, in their effectiveness

in enacting certain government policies. The MOE is the Thai governmental body responsible for the oversight of education in Thailand.

After completely revitalizing the MOPH, Thailand saw increased rates of effective health- care, especially in rural regions. Nam said that this increase is likely due to the willingness of the bureaucrats within the MOPH to talk to healthcare professionals in order to deliver better care and implement more effective healthcare policies.

In contrast, even after the MOE changed its policies on education, Thailand still has a lower literacy rate in rural areas compared to other countries with a similar socioeconomic status. Nam said she thinks this discrepancy is due to the clogged and non-functional agency that does not take educators’ opinions into account. After visiting both agencies, Nam said that there was a stark difference between even the appearance of both agencies’ offices. While the MOPH was orderly, the MOE was filled with boxes of untouched paperwork that lined the corridors, making it difficult to walk through the hallways.

Nam later visited some of the schools in Thailand and said she was surprised at the lethargic attitude of many of the educators. She said that they felt they had little input into the educational system and standards. As Nam continues on with her research, she will work to see what other factors emerge relating to the functionality of government agencies, and how they can improve in order to better the lives of many people living in low capacity states.

This lecture was part of the Division of Social Sciences Luncheon Seminar Series. The next lunch will be with Bicentennial Research Fellow Jennifer Hull on March 7.

Contact Logan King at [email protected].