Southeast Asia Studies Seminar Program
The MacMillan Center at Yale University
Jan 30, 2013

"Naming Chaos: Accident, precariousness, and the spirits of wildness in urban Thai spirit cults"
Andrew Alan Johnson, Postdoctoral Fellow, Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University

This paper examines Thai conceptions of wildness [theuan] and accident in the context of the informal economy via the lens of popular religious practice. Specifically, I look at the propitiation of wilderness spirits in urban Bangkok and how migrant and marginal workers see such places as sites of hope and danger. I argue that, through naming the potential for accident and death as a spirit with which they can communicate, informal-economy workers attempt to change the potential for misfortune into its opposite. This study draws upon recent work on neoliberal and precarious labor in Europe as well as connections between the occult and the economy.

Andrew Johnson received his PhD in cultural anthropology from Cornell University in 2010. His dissertation work looked at urban planning, spirit mediumship, haunting and abandoned buildings in the Northern Thai city of Chiang Mai. Since then, he has worked as an Assistant Professor at Sogang University in Seoul, and has been a postdoctoral fellow at the National University of Singapore and, currently, Columbia University. His current work looks at migrant labor and spirit shrines in Bangkok and is based on field research conducted in
2011 and 2012. He has published articles in Cultural Anthropology, American Ethnologist, Anthropological Quarterly, the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, and has a book manuscript under review at University of Hawaii Press.


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