Japanese Journal of Cultural Anthropology
Online ISSN : 2424-0516
Print ISSN : 1349-0648
ISSN-L : 1349-0648
Co-construction of Machines and Social Groups : The Development of Agricultural Machinery Technology and the Formation of Mechanics Groups in Thailand(<Special Theme>Anthropology of Science and Technology)
Atsuro MORITA
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2007 Volume 71 Issue 4 Pages 491-517

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Abstract

Farm equipment used in Thailand today was developed by local manufacturers after World War II. They manufacture a variety of machines, including two-wheel tractors, pumps, threshers, plows, and combine harvesters. Most of the manufacturers are small and medium-size enterprises, and most machines were designed by mechanics who have trained as apprentices or have learned the skills by themselves. This article looks at the mutual relationship between the development of agricultural machine technology and the formation of social groups of mechanics. By describing technical development as a process of the co-construction of machines and mechanics, I explore the origin of social groups and its relation to technical practices. I discuss neither social actions nor social relations as a basis of the formation of social groups, but instead sociality transpired from technical practices and their heterogeneous arrangements. In the course of my argument, I develop the notion of the "arrangement" of practice, borrowing a phrase from a philosopher of practice, Theodore Schatzki. The term "arrangement" refers to the combination of heterogeneous elements, such as mechanics, machines, machinery parts, tools, farmers, soil, weeds, etc. that comprise the technical practices of repair, development, and the use of machines. The development of both technology and social groups in Thailand originated in the import of farm equipment after World War II. Most of the imported machines did not suit the local environment, and would not work sufficiently without constant repair and adaptation. Soon after foreign farm equipment was introduced into Thailand, Chinese mechanics and Thai farmers started to learn repair skills, and began to form social groups of mechanics. It is those groups of mechanics that became the agents of subsequent technical development. To illustrate the process of technical development, I focus on the network of practices comprising the practices of maintenance, remodeling, and parts manufacturing in various factories and workshops, and the use of farm equipment by farmers. Those practices are connected by the circulation of artifacts, such as farm equipment and their parts. By describing such a network of practices, I show how the farm equipment has been remodeled and developed in the nexus of heterogeneous practices, and point out that the negotiations between farmers and mechanics have played a significant role in technical development. It is the openness of the network of practices that makes such negotiation possible. I describe how that open structure emerged, by focusing on Thai social categories of factory (u and rong klung) and their historical development. The word rong klung is composed of the noun rong, which means "building," and the verb klung, "to lathe." Literally, a rong klung is a machine shop with a lathe and other machine tools. The rong klung are the oldest machine factories in Thailand, founded by Cantonese immigrants around 1900. They had learned their skills working in rice mills, sawmills, and docks run by Westerners in the late 19th century, and later started to run their own factories at the turn of century. The Cantonese workers also organized apprenticeship schemes based on the traditional Chinese guild. Therefore, the apprenticeships were restricted to Cantonese people from the outset. Consequently, most rong klung were run by Cantonese until the 1950s. However, the apprenticeships rapidly opened to Thais and other Chinese groups after World War II. In contrast to the rong klung, u have been run by almost all ethnic groups. An u is a factory or workshop that repairs automobiles. The word comes from the Teochew dialect of Chinese, and originally means "dock," and has also come to mean auto repair shop as a result of postwar motorization. In contrast to turners, who are trained by apprenticeship,

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