Synopses & Reviews
Based on fieldwork conducted over the past fifteen years, Siege of the Spirits is an in-depth ethnography of a tiny community, Pom Mahakan, which dwells at the historic heart of a major metropolis, Bangkok. Pom Mahakan has been targeted for beautification and urban renewal by the city and national governments. The typically poor residents have organized in particular and often paradoxical ways to resist eviction on a large scale. Their protests are couched in the familiar symbolic idiom of the larger movement for the rights of the poor.and#160; But much of that idiom reflects middle-class values and practices. On the one hand, they sought to identify their community with the entire nation and its Buddhist heritage, so that any assault on their integrity could also be represented as an act of treason or sacrilege. Thus claiming the mantle of national history, they invert a scale of legitimacy in which the authorities have tried to place them on the lowest rung. On the other hand, their identification with the official narrative of a state they accuse of ignoring them, and especially with the discourse of reverence for an increasingly controversial and beleaguered establishment, carried serious risks for their future.and#160; Under siege is both their spirit of resilience but also their defense of the spirit shrines threatened with destruction through urban renewal. Herzfeld shows how the residentsandrsquo; claims to represent a microcosm of Thai Buddhist society influence political policy and public opinion. His attempt to arrive at an at least partial understanding of these apparent contradictions leads to the core of Thai ideas about power and into the arenas in which political practices translate those ideas into policies and actions.