Conjuring the People: Entrepreneurial Localism and the Case of the Khon Kaen Model

MacDonald, Richard and Songkhunatham, Peera. 2021. Conjuring the People: Entrepreneurial Localism and the Case of the Khon Kaen Model. Way Magazine, [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Translated into Thai by Peera Songkhunnatham

The prospect of new transport infrastructures, notably China’s Pan-Asia High Speed rail, enhancing cross-border connectivity between the cities of the greater Mekong has galvanised entrepreneurial urbanists in Khon Kaen, a secondary city in the Northeast of Thailand. The Khon Kaen Development Corporation, formed in 2015 by twenty prominent business figures with interests in manufacturing, real estate and retail have proven adept at navigating a notoriously centralised Thai state, securing ministerial approval for plans to build a privately financed light rail network, the first in the country, and prime ministerial endorsement for a private sector-led urban development formula, the Khon Kaen model, in which claims of local self-reliance feature prominently. Drawing on extensive fieldwork observations and interviews with Khon Kaen citizens, combined with analysis of the promotional and journalistic discourse surrounding the Khon Kaen Model, the article looks at the way a form of entrepreneurial populism conjures popular support, positioning the members of the development corporation as both exemplary moral agents and the legitimate representatives of local popular will. The article argues that what makes the corporation’s brand of localism, which elevates the moral claims to leadership of the local business elite, especially problematic is that it takes place in the absence of a functioning local democracy characterised by the periodic contest for municipal power between political parties with differing visions of urban futures.

Item Type:



Entrepreneurial urbanism, light rail transit, Khon Kaen, localism, Transit oriented development

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


1 January 2021Accepted
8 February 2021Published Online

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Date Deposited:

16 Feb 2021 10:46

Last Modified:

26 Apr 2021 11:48


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