Tracks and Traces: Thailand and the Work of Andrew Turton

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Tracks and traces: Thailand and the work of Andrew Turton

Edited by PHILIP HIRSCH and NICHOLAS TAPP

Amsterdam University Press, 2010. Pp. 159. Photographs, Figures, Tables.

Tracks and traces is an attempt to reread the work of Andrew Turton in light of the changing context of Thai politics and society of (and in which) he wrote, and in terms of how this reading may be applied to Thailand today. Many of the chapters are concerned with recent Thai history (especially politics) and contain the various authors' reflections on Thai studies literature. This makes for interesting reading because, although the events and literature described will be familiar to most of the target audience, the chapters are brief, often polemical and highly readable. Each provides a succinct example of what the (often prominent) authors make of the field in overview and on reflection. Each chapter can be approached as a kind of 'position statement' that may reveal more about the author than about Thailand or Turton per se. Specialists of the region will thus find this a fascinating collection because it highlights the different ways these scholars 'read' Thai history and Thai studies.

Keyes starts the collection with a contribution outlining his take on the history of political events in the Northeast and his view that this must be understood in terms of a 'continuity of a distinctive ethno-regionalism in northeastern Thailand' (p. 25). Ganjanapan and Hirsch take a fascinating look at agrarian change, updating Turton's work in this area in light of the challenges of interpreting globalisation. Cohen usefully describes various anthropological interpretations of power and leadership in Thailand, many of them inspired by Turton. Glassman's lively and invigorating contribution presents an insightful reflection on the vicissitudes of radical scholarship. While not everyone will follow Glassman to his political conclusions, the historical survey he presents of the entanglements of scholarship and politics is insightful and provocative, and well worth the read. Chiengthong presents an account of modern subjectivities and political action that was to my mind remarkably inconclusive. Rigg uses Turton's early work on participation to reflect on the changing nature of development discourse. Reynolds provides a commentary on Turton's work on the history of slavery, noting the salience of debt bondage and other forms of unfree labour today.

While the book is written in a clear style that would be accessible for beginner students, much of the content takes the form of meta-level interpretation--the Thai studies of Thai studies--that would be of interest mostly to advanced students or specialists. …