"My 'W/ri[gh]t/E' and My Land": A Postcolonial Feminist Study on Grassroots' Archives and Autobiography (1937-2004)
Inspired by the story of Pornpet Meuansri, a land rights activist, who was brutally killed on the way back home from her farm leaving behind her 400 petitions, diaries, letters, news clippings, court documents and other archival records, my thesis aims to answer the central questions of “Can the subaltern write? And how do we begin to read their writing?” These questions are then addressed within the combined frameworks of postcolonial geography and feminist research practice specifically focusing on auto/biography and the innovative approaches of revelatory reading and engaging women’s archives and women’s life narratives intersubjectively. In this regard, Trinh Thi Minh-ha's idea of “territorialised knowledge” as well as Luce Irigaray's notion of “approaching the other as other” and Spivak's question "Can the subaltern speak?" are applied to Pornpet’s work in an effort to create a more inclusive postcolonial geographical knowledge which reflects more in-depth race and class specificities. As a result, the thesis elaborates upon three significant areas of original contribution to the disciplines of postcolonial feminist geography and archives studies: theoretical, methodological and epistemological. Firstly and theoretically, this study advances postcolonial feminist scholarship by applying the concept of ‘colonialism within’, a missing piece not touched upon by postcolonial feminist thinkers. Moreover, the study shifts the current discursive debates on postcolonial archives studies to ‘subalternity into crisis’ in that, at least in Pornpet's case, she attempts to be heard and understood on her own terms in an effort to overcome her own subalternity. In this regard, the thesis asserts that overcoming subalternity is not possible without also having the dominants unlearn their privilege, and therefore overcome the internalised structured hearing of the dominant discourses that silence and marginalise the subaltern. Therefore, this thesis explores this possibility through Irigaray’s work on ‘listening’ and intersubjective dialogue. Secondly and methodologically, the thesis critically and creatively applies the feminist innovative approach of ‘revelatory reading' to assess the subaltern’s archives by developing Irigaray’s notion of “approaching the [sexuate and racial] other as the other” and applying it to the reading of texts of (deceased) others, specifically, the texts of a subaltern (-ity into crisis), in creative ways, eg reading ‘becoming’, reading ‘silence’ and reading ‘listening’, respectively. Thirdly and epistemologically, a radical interpretation of the concept of de-bureaucratisation or a grassroots woman’s critique of mainstream Thai feminist scholarship is applied through the framework of Buddhism and the utilisation of multiple forms of inscription. This results in not only interrupting the homogenising effects of “Women and Development” and mainstream feminist discourse in Thailand, but it also brings the often ignored issue of patriarchal state ‘violence’ (through writing) against (men and) women to the forefront. Above all, a study on writing from women’s personal experience in the context of oppressive public structures not only reveals the hidden space of the internal colonial bureaucratic system but also offers the tools to challenge the centralised state organisation’s patriarchal structure. In this regard, a feminist critique that establishes both a body of knowledge built up from missing perspectives and that is directed by the need for a more just and equitable society will enrich the lives of (both) women (and men) and other “subalterns”.