Recognizing that the processes of defining self- and group- identity are complex, continuous, and often contested, the SAC emphasizes the essentiality of true participatory collaboration when working with source communities. By opening space for dialogue and exchange, we hope to encourage deeper exploration of what it means to “belong” to a culture, and to investigate the implications for individual agency when cultural expressions and identities are challenged or threatened as a result of various social, political, and economic forces. With this goal in mind, the Culture & Rights project was launched in 2009 in order to strengthen the conceptual understanding and theoretical frameworks surrounding cultural rights issues in Thailand and beyond. Similarly, the Community Anthropology project approaches topics of cultural pluralism and heritage protection from a more grassroots perspective by partnering with local communities to share anthropological methods, which communities can then use to document, safeguard, and share their cultural expressions, practices, and ways of life in ways that they deem appropriate. These exercises also serve as a catalyst for group recognition of the differences and diversity that are present within a single community.
In order to make research accessible to academics, source communities, and the wider public, the SAC has developed a range of online digital databases, including the Ethnic Groups in Thailand Research database, the Anthropological Archives database, and the Local Museums in Thailand database. One thematic component of the digital archives was the launch of field-based research to investigate how communities in Thailand define, conserve and transmit their cultural heritage via the local museum. The Local Museums Research and Development project centers on building capacity of local communities to document, conserve, and transmit their local heritage via museums, in part through hands-on training in museological methods and in part by fostering exchange and networking among local museums in Thailand. Similarly, the Intangible Cultural Heritage and Museums Field School extends this objective of training in cultural heritage management to the regional level. Building on the SAC's knowledge and experience working with local museums, the Field School combines cutting-edge approaches to community museums and “new museology” with a hands-on field practicum in an intensive course geared towards heritage and museum practitioners in the Asia and Pacific region. These projects are founded upon our belief that cultural heritage cannot be viewed as separate from the broader historical and contemporary geopolitical and social contexts that contribute to its meaning. As such, our work draws attention to the issue of power relations in defining heritage, and the central role that source communities must play as decision-makers in identifying, interpreting, and safeguarding cultural heritage.
The SAC also focuses on issues of audio-visual representation of ethnic diversity, cultural difference, and heritage by engaging in collaborative filmmaking projects and hosting visual anthropology seminars and film screenings. These initiatives not only allow us to reflect upon how visual media informs and shapes our perceptions of the world around us, but also enable us to think more critically about the power relations that are inherent in image production. This “Core Theme” of Research & Community Engagement links most directly to the SAC’s vision, and relates explicitly to the aim of building cross-cultural understanding and respect for difference as the foundation of a plural society.