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Rule by Good People: Health Governance and the Violence of Moral Authority in Thailand

By Daena Aki Funahashi

Cite As:
Funahashi, Daena Aki. 2015. “Rule by Good People: Health Governance and the Violence of Moral Authority in Thailand.” Cultural Anthropology 31, no. 1: 107–130.


This article rethinks the presumed translatability of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) health promotion models and explores the unintended consequences of their global export. Specifically, I focus on the Thai military government’s adoption (2006–2008) of the Health in All Policies (HiAP) initiative, which redefined health outcomes as the standard universal measure against which the success of national public policy ought to be evaluated. Through my fieldwork at state-owned Thai health organizations, I track how a dharmic concept of wisdom (panya), one that links the capacity to make healthy choices with differential levels of enlightenment, undergirds the Thai adoption of HiAP, with political implications that are unrepresentable in nondharmic political worlds. I analyze the ramifications of framing a political intervention within the apolitical bioscientific register of medical necessity, and explore the effect that global health movements have on the status of political legitimacy and national political conflicts.


global health; cosmopolitics; knowledge practices; political legitimacy; experts; Thailand