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NGOs, advocacy and popular protest: a case study of Thailand

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During 1997, many Thai NGOs became involved in anti-government protests at local and national levels as an extension of their advocacy work. The latest and longest protest in Thai history took place from January to May 1997 with more than 30,000 protesters taking part. The main aim of this paper is to examine why public protest has increasingly become part of the advocacy work of these NGOs. It suggests that where social and economic tensions have reached a crisis point, (generated by Thailand’s highly uneven economic development of the past decade), there is a phenomenon of ‘cultural drift’ in which dominant values and norms are challenged and protest action by the poor breaks out. Some Thai NGOs have therefore taken on the role of ‘social movement organisations’ and in interventions have attempted to shift conflicts from local peripheries into the national arena. Drawing on ‘resource mobilisation theory’, this paper argues that NGOs have become involved in the protest movement as ‘resources’ rather than as full ‘actors’ by providing linkages and networks. The study suggests that the ‘social movement’ perspective as a conceptual framework for the analysis of the NGOs’ advocacy work is useful. It also argues that the NGOs which emphasise advocacy should be considered as ‘social movement organisations’. It concludes that more comparative research is needed on NGOs which perform advocacy work, especially in the wider South and South East Asian context.

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