UPCOMING INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE PAPER: How East Asian regionalism connects ecologies and societies through global commodity-commons chains


Social Actions to Climate Change and Energy Transition in East Asia: Toward A Sustainable Planet

26-28 October 2019, Graduate School of Environmental Studies, Seoul, Korea

Session 4.3: Commons and Sustainability Transition (2)

Sunday, 27 October 2019, 10:50 AM ~ 12:20 PM, Room 305, moderated by Carl Middleton


  • The Conservation of SATOYAMA and Reforming of Commons: the Actors and Activities of Producing Firewood, Takahashi Satoka (Tohoku University)

  • Sustainable Development through the Lens of Historical Environmental Conservation: From the Case of Urban Regeneration in Daegu, Korea, Rie Matsui (Atomi University)

  • How East Asian Regionalism Connects Ecologies and Societies through Global Commodity-commons Chains, Carl Middleton (Chulalongkorn University); Takeshi Ito (Sophia University)

For more information about the conference, please visit this link here.

Abstract for How East Asian regionalism connects ecologies and societies through global commodity-commons chains

by Carl Middleton* and Takeshi Ito**

East Asia has a long history of regionalism, at least since the 16th Century. The age of economic modernization since the mid-19th Century profoundly transformed the region economically, socially, and ecologically. Japan rapidly industrialized since the Meiji Restoration in 1868, which was a precursor to Japan’s imperial expansion, and latter reconstruction after World War II. Thailand, meanwhile, at first was a commodity exporter, but since the 1950s industrialized initially with a focus on domestic markets, and later for export. Over this period, Thailand and Japan deepened their political and economic relations, perhaps most profoundly since the 1980s when the Plaza Accord catalyzed large flows of investment from Japan into Thailand leading to rapid industrialization.

In this paper, with a focus on Japan and Thailand, we outline an environmental and economic history of East Asian regionalism to reveal how rapid economic modernization and social and ecological change are intimately connected and transform each other. We examine how the evolving political economy of East Asian regionalism, including flows of trade, investment, and aid, has reworked ecology-society relations in distant yet connected sites of investment and divestment, and the implications for community vulnerabilities. Our study is based on empirical fieldwork and archival research. In Thailand, our research focuses on industrial estates in Ayutthaya and Map Tha Phut, and peri-urban areas of Bangkok. In Japan, we focus on the watershed surrounding Tokyo, including former and current industrial zones and the Watarase conservation area, as well as Tokyo city itself.

We argue that the continual and connected reworking of ecologies and ecology-society relations in numerous localities in Thailand and Japan is an underappreciated foundation that has underpinned the expansion of capitalism in East Asia, including as it has responded to changing geopolitical, economic, and environmental contexts. We explore these connections through proposing the concept of ‘global commodity-commons chains’ to detail the dynamic ecology-society relations embedded in all global commodity chains. Through this concept we aim to understand the relational processes between Japan and Thailand that have led to the enclosure and recreation of commons, and changes to communities’ economic, social and ecological vulnerabilities in both positive and negative ways.

*Center of Excellence on Resource Politics for Social Development, Center for Social Development Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University (Carl.Chulalongkorn@gmail.com)

**Faculty of Liberal Arts and Graduate School of Global Studies, Sophia University (takeshi.ito@sophia.ac.jp)

UPCOMING INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE: "XVIIth Global Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons" [Lima, 1-4 July 2019]

The XVII Biennial IASC Conference, entitled ‘In Defense of the Commons: Challenges, Innovation, and Action’ will be held at the Catholic University of Lima, Peru on July 1-4, 2019. For more details about the conference, please visit this link.

Panel 3B - Hybrid governance of transboundary environmental commons in Southeast Asia

10:30 - 12.00, July 2, Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru

Chair: David Taylor

  • Marcel Bandur (National University of Singapore): Hybrid Governance of Transboundary Forest Commons in the Rohingya Crisis

  • David Taylor (National University of Singapore): SR15, NET and the possible implications for biomass governance at low latitudes

  • Rini Astuti (National University of Singapore): Assembling Commercial ForestPeatland Commons in Indonesia

  • Carl Middleton (Chulalongkorn University): The Lancang-Mekong River as a transboundary hybrid commons: Competing collective actions and ethical principles

For more details on Carl's presentation, please take a look at the abstract here.