The smart city policy was launched in Thailand with Khon Kaen as a pilot city, with an aim to achieve goals such as a smart economy, smart governance but also a smart environment, implying the use of technology for sustainable resource management. In many studies that critically examine the role of elite networks, entrepreneurs, and the real estate sector in land-use change, we find critical gender analysis to be missing, which leaves masculinity as an unidentified, yet omnipresent, norm.

This warrants the need for critical research to establish a stronger empirical evidence base on how urban development trajectories, such as the ones initiated by the smart cities mission, destabilize local gender norms. We seek to identify the tensions shaping the constructions and performances of gender roles and identities of men in shaping the conceptualization and implementation of smart city projects.

First, research on rapid urbanization is critical to the overall agenda of reducing climate risk as urbanization is linked to land degradation, intensive resource consumption and increased climate risks.

Second, this project will deepen SEI’s engagement with issues of gender, environment and development. Particularly, this project has potential to provide a novel contribution to SEI’s ongoing Gender Equality, Social Equity and Poverty (GESEP) Initiative.

Third, the study expects to produce planning insights that provide a nuanced understanding of the social pre-conditions requisite for inclusive climate-relevant urban interventions and infrastructure projects across Asia. Specifically, we aim to translate our research to practice by promoting gender-impact assessments in urban planning and identifying gender-sensitive and inclusivity considerations in standard environmental assessments.

We will explore the following research questions in an exploratory case study of Khon Kaen city using qualitative research methods such as interviews, life histories and desk-based analysis of news and policy archives:

  1. In what ways do such urban development pathways impact livelihood strategies, and how does that rework, reconfigure, and/or alienate masculine identities? Are there any resistance to development projects when these identities are threatened?
  2. What kind of indirect consequences do changing masculinities have on broader gender norms (e.g., within the public and private sphere)?
  3. How do other axes of stratification, in addition to gender, such as class, religion or ethnicity, shape and diversify the responses of men to urban development?