Everyday Experiences of the
State in the Margins: Memory, Belonging, Violence

Volume 86, #4

Fall 2013

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Volume 86, #4 • Fall 2013




Moral Knowledge and its Enemies: Conspiracy and Kingship in Thailand

Andrew Alan Johnson, Columbia University

ABSTRACT — In the past five years, Thailand has been beset by coup d’état, street violence, and most recently the devastating floods of 2011. Looming in the background is the failing health of the Thai monarch, that person who has been the most potent symbol of 20th century development for Thais. With these events has come increasing political paranoia. Since 2006, accusations of lèse-majesté have leapt nearly a thousand-fold, and royalist conspiracy theories draw links between all of Thailand’s ills and the plots of sources of power.

Dominic Boyer (2006) and Hoon Song (2010) see conspiracy theorizing as the questioning of hegemonic sources of knowledge rather than as alternative cosmologies. I draw connections between the problematizing of “truth” via conspiracy theory and Thai ideas of moral knowledge in the idiom of baaramii. Specifically, I see how conspiracy theories about the Thai monarch serve to question the idea of a truth which is self-evident.

Many of the conspiracy theories which I discuss here are highly charged in Thailand. Such conspiracy theories have in the past been used to justify the killing or imprisonment of political dissidents and others simply caught in the middle. Yet here, I seek to stand aside from issues of social justice for the moment and focus instead upon how notions of conspiracy become constructed and what function they serve at present in Thai society. [Keywords: Conspiracy, monarchy, Thailand, Thaksin, charisma]


A Baron, Some Guides, and a Few Ephebic Boys: Cultural Intimacy, Sexuality, and Heritage in Sicily

Berardino Palumbo, University of Messina

ABSTRACT — In this article, I will assemble a comparative frame within which to read social practices connected with the construction/production of collective cultural identities in some Sicilian contexts. The case studies I collect refer to different historical periods (some Sicilian guides to 18th and 19th centuries Grand Tour voyagers, a few poor youths interacting with a gay German baron in 19th- and 20th-century Taormina, and two tour “guides” living today in a Sicilian UNESCO World Heritage List site) and have an unequal analytic thickness (ranging from a pre-textual episode in Taormina where a Sicilian male tour guide interacts with two young European female tourists, to a very long ethnographic experience in a southeastern Sicilian town). Crisscrossing these case studies, I would like to achieve two analytical goals. First, I hope to shed light on some distinctive traits of the historical process through which Sicily and Sicilians entered, and accommodated themselves with, a hegemonic “global hierarchy of value.” Secondly, drawing from some recent critical interpretations, I will discuss the analytical relevance of Michael Herzfeld’s notion of “cultural intimacy” to read the historical and social process I describe. [Keywords: Cultural intimacy, heritage, tourism, sex, power, Sicily]


Humans and Things: Mande “Fetishes” as Subjects

Agnes Kedzierska Manzon, Centre d’Anthropologie Sociale du Laboratoire Interdisciplinaire Solidarités, Societé, Territoire—Université Toulouse 2-le Mirail

ABSTRACT — The West African Mande use a wide variety of material artifacts (“fetishes”) to influence their lives. They conceive of such artifacts as partners with whom their users actively engage in genuine relationship. Thus, they treat these objects as subjects. Yet anthropologists have typically interpreted such objects, and similar magical artifacts worldwide, as symbols, that is, material representations reifying social and power structures. This article re-examines the traditional anthropological binary and indexical view of the objects in question while exploring these objects’ agency, which I consider as the foundation of their efficacy. [Keywords: Power objects, agency, fetishism, symbolic effectiveness, Mande]