Hazing and Hierarchy in Thailand: SOTUS and Societal Change

Hazing and Hierarchy in Thailand: SOTUS and Societal Change

Tuesday, October 27, 2020 - 9:26am
Emily Brown

In this essay, I plan to explore the role that the SOTUS (Seniority, Order, Tradition, Unity, Spirit) system, a traditional system of ritualized hazing in Thai universities, plays in reinforcing and instilling of the importance of hierarchy into Thai young adults. The SOTUS system, in Thailand, represents a period of moderate to severe hazing by their seniors in the first weeks or months of a university freshman’s time at school. Through synchronous activities, games, and punishments, the system’s goal is to create unity within one’s own specific age-peer group and to inspire loyalty and respect in the younger students (nong) to their seniors (phi), as well as to reinforce traditional ideas about hierarchy within the society as a whole. In this essay, I will argue that SOTUS is more than just a reinforcer of hierarchy among the youth- it represents just one aspect of a much wider system of perpetuation of systems of hierarchy within Thailand. To do this, I will explore the deeper relationships that the SOTUS system has with society as a whole, insofar as it is similar to other traditions throughout Thailand that serve a similar purpose for different age groups. I will use newspaper articles, opinion-based blog posts, and academic articles about hierarchy in Thailand to illustrate the intrenchment of SOTUS within the hierarchical structure of the country. Moreover, I also plan to address the contrasting the opinions of those who actively support the system and their reasons why as well as those who fight it. Adding on to this, by exploring both the polarization behind both the increasing spread and severity of the system (including, perhaps, its wider spread to high school demographics, and also perhaps coinciding with similar trends, such as the reestablishment of university uniforms in many schools across Thailand) and the increasing protests against the system and what it stands for, I will attempt to explain some of the recent trends in Thai society, where political polarization has increased significantly and with the rise of the recent protests against the government. 

Potential references will include:

Bowie, Katherine Ann. Rituals of National Loyalty: an Anthropology of the State and the Village Scout Movement in Thailand. New York, New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.

Grubbs, Samuel J. and Samuel J. Grubbs. 2012. “An Investigation into a Thai University Initiation.” Asia Pacific Education Review 13 (1): 39-46.

Howard, Kathryn. “Kinterm Usage and Hierarchy in Thai Children’s Peer Groups.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 17, no. 2 (2007): 204-30. Accessed October 23, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43104151.

Ungpakorn, Giles Ji. “The Impact of the Thai ‘Sixties’ on the Peoples Movement Today.” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 7, no. 4 (December 1, 2006): 570–88. https://doi.org/10.1080/14649370600982925.

final essay term: