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Siege of the Spirits
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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.
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About the Author

Michael Herzfeld is the Ernest E. Monrad Professor of the Social Sciences in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University and has taught at several other universities worldwide. He is the author of many books, most recently The Body Impolitic and Evicted from Eternity, both also published by the University of Chicago Press.

Reviews

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. --Erik Harms, author of Saigon s Edge" 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. --Peter van der Veer, author of The Modern Spirit of Asia" "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."--Erik Harms, author of Saigon's Edge "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."--Peter van der Veer, author of The Modern Spirit of 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."--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. --Oscar Salemink, coeditor of the Routledge Handbook of Religions in Asia"

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