Walking with Giants: Ecofeminist Insights on Elephant Tourism in Thailand

Publication Date

April 2016


Lori Gruen


Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality


English (United States)


Elephants in Thailand represent a particularly interesting category of nonhuman animals because of the way they are constructed through cultural imaginations to dwell somewhere in the borderlands between human and nonhuman animals. They are imagined in many different contradictory ways: employed workers, captives, dangerous, docile, domesticated, beasts of burden, sacred manifestations of god, nationalistic symbols of Thai culture, and symbols of royal power. The borderlands are of interest because as Claire Jean Kim tells us they are spaces “wrought by power but illustrative of power’s indeterminacy” (Kim 2014, p. 25). The borderlands are dangerous and precarious for those who exist within them, but they are also a potential source for ideas that subvert oppressive power structures. My thesis involves critical analysis of a complex social and environmental issue, but is also a hopeful project, attempting to use the indeterminacy of power to illustrate potential possibilities for elephant tourism. Chapter one provides the background information necessary to start thinking about elephant tourism from an ecofeminist perspective. I discuss some necessary background information on Asian elephants biology, behavior, and their history in Thailand. In chapter two, I explore the early formative years of the elephant tourism industry, unpacking the dialogue and rhetoric that constructed the industry. Chapter three explores the recent developments in the industry, and looks at the effect of changing consumer attitudes towards tourism. Chapter four draws on previous work by ecofeminists to demonstrate the methodology of analyzing the cross-cultural, ethical issues involving humans and nonhuman animals. In chapter five, I draw on my observations over two years of immersion in these issues and watching the formation of a community based ecotourism program. Chapter five also traces my experiences and what I’ve learned throughout this process about myself, relationality, empathy, and trying to live compassionately in the world.

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