Paper $30.00 ISBN: 9780226331614 Published March 2016
Cloth $90.00 ISBN: 9780226331584 Published March 2016
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Siege of the Spirits

Community and Polity in Bangkok

Michael Herzfeld

Siege of the Spirits

Michael Herzfeld

272 pages | 9 halftones, 1 map | 6 x 9 | © 2016
Paper $30.00 ISBN: 9780226331614 Published March 2016
Cloth $90.00 ISBN: 9780226331584 Published March 2016
E-book $10.00 to $30.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226331751 Published March 2016
What happens when three hundred alleged squatters go head-to-head with an enormous city government looking to develop the place where they live? As anthropologist Michael Herzfeld shows in this book, the answer can be surprising. He tells the story of Pom Mahakan, a tiny enclave in the heart of old Bangkok whose residents have resisted authorities’ demands to vacate their homes for a quarter of a century. It’s a story of community versus government, of old versus new, and of political will versus the law.
           
Herzfeld argues that even though the residents of Pom Mahakan have lost every legal battle the city government has dragged them into, they have won every public relations contest, highlighting their struggle as one against bureaucrats who do not respect the age-old values of Thai/Siamese social and cultural order. Such values include compassion for the poor and an understanding of urban space as deeply embedded in social and ritual relations. In a gripping account of their standoff, Herzfeld—who simultaneously argues for the importance of activism in scholarship—traces the agile political tactics and styles of the community’s leadership, using their struggle to illuminate the larger difficulties, tensions, and unresolved debates that continue to roil Thai society to this day. 
Review Quotes
Choice
“With painstaking detail, anthropologist Herzfeld documents the two-and-a-half decade struggle of Bangkok’s Pom Mahakan community to resist eviction. . . . this is a study of human ingenuity and the impulse to make meaning within the paradoxes and limits of history and culture.”
Bangkok Post
“Herzfeld writes anthropology as if delivering a fireside chat, without a trace of jargon, and with humanity filling the frame. He narrates the negotiations between community members and bureaucrats in graphic detail. He dissects the vocabulary used by both sides. He places the whole issue within the framework of Thailand’s present and past. . . . Herzfeld’s book tells the story of the community with great color and verve but also places it in an international context of community, state, and heritage.”
Newbooks.asia
“Herzfeld draws on his ethnography of local resistance to demonstrate how the local people have not destroyed but created a sacred historic space with humanity and dignity. This book makes a significant contribution to the anthropology of politics, both in a general sense and in the context of the violently political conflicts of Thailand. Much of the prevailing discourse on politics in Thailand focuses on the contradictions between two different kinds of political systems, and treat Thailand as a country swinging between monarchy and democracy. Herzfeld, however, not just revives the anthropological discussion of how ‘pulsating galactic polity’ and nation-state polity coexist in postcolonial times, but stresses the agency of the local people to move between the two polity models when they are fighting for their community. Tracing the community’s strategy and leadership style, this book demonstrates the deep tension and dynamics in Thai political culture. With his involvement in the local resistance for more than ten years, Herzfeld also shows us how engaged anthropology can be as one part of the real political society.”  
 
Current Anthropology
"From start to finish, Siege of the Spirits reads like the captivating political drama it is, evoking what is a very complex reality through the struggles of people in a small, even temporary community. Scholars of Thai studies, sociology, political science, anthropology, and cultural psychology will find much that is worth thinking about in this book, especially in the increasing attention paid to social inequalities and the competing social values that reinforce and resist them."
Oscar Salemink, coeditor of the Routledge Handbook of Religions in Asia
“A virtuoso ethnographer and writer, Herzfeld dissects the heritage effects of the Pom Mahakan citadel in Bangkok on the surrounding neighborhood in vivid detail. Echoing Leach in the urban jungle, he looks over the shoulders of the protagonists by describing how the neighborhood navigates between the cultural model of the older mandala-style, segmentary polity as a moral community (moeang) and the culturally alien model of the centralized bureaucratic state (prathaet). This book is a must-read for Southeast Asianists, scholars of heritage, urban planners, and urban anthropologists alike.”
Peter van der Veer, author of The Modern Spirit of Asia
“Herzfeld gives us a wonderfully crafted example of engaged anthropology in his analysis of both developmentalist and civilizational discourse in Thailand. Full of stimulating insights, it is a passionate and intimate account of the struggle of a small, poor community in Bangkok. Urban ethnography at its critical best.”
Erik Harms, author of Saigon’s Edge
“This vivid book shows just how ugly the top-down politics of beautification and heritage can be. More important, it also shows that the real beauty of Bangkok lies in the creativity of communities like Pom Mahakan, whose residents play with the idioms of power both to co-opt and to resist the will of those seeking to bulldoze their lives. Herzfeld’s account bursts with energy—the writing is nimble, and the theorizing is grounded in anthropological classics but always tied to the realities of the case at hand. In this way, the book carefully guides the reader through the complexities of Thai politics without ever getting in the way of the story.”
For more information, or to order this book, please visit http://www.press.uchicago.edu
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