This dissertation offers an ethnographic inquiry into Thailand’s world of divination at the end of the ninth reign. It interweaves the lives of divination practitioners in Bangkok with the political biography of the kingdom, advancing an interpretation of their significance at a crucial turning point in Thai history. This study draws on extensive fieldwork research conducted with street and ‘elite’ diviners, their clients and their critics, as well as on over 15 years of experience in Thailand. I propose that diviners, like Buddhist kings, embody exceptional quantities of sovereignty-granting cosmic power (barami). I further argue that they aid others to accumulate such power, contributing to its dissemination to the citizenry and to the making of the individual as a new king-like being. This ambiguous ‘democratization’ of kingship replicates Thailand’s process of popular empowerment, whereby social mobility and political participation remain associated with the notion of privilege. Catering to people’s most intimate ambitions and anxieties, the Thai world of divination is an exemplar locus whereby a greater struggle for the inclusion of the citizen in the political life of the kingdom becomes manifest. This study asserts that such struggle culminated in conflict, as, with the disappearance of King Bhumibol, individuals from all political faiths signaled their legitimacy as new, competing vessels of sovereign power. My theorization of sovereign power as a substance that is embodied at the level of the individual offers an alternative to existing models in the scholarship of sovereignty, and may find applications beyond Thai society.

The Eclipse of the Diviners: Sovereign Power and the Buddhist Cosmos at the End of Thailand's Ninth Reign

Edoardo Siani
2017

Abstract

This dissertation offers an ethnographic inquiry into Thailand’s world of divination at the end of the ninth reign. It interweaves the lives of divination practitioners in Bangkok with the political biography of the kingdom, advancing an interpretation of their significance at a crucial turning point in Thai history. This study draws on extensive fieldwork research conducted with street and ‘elite’ diviners, their clients and their critics, as well as on over 15 years of experience in Thailand. I propose that diviners, like Buddhist kings, embody exceptional quantities of sovereignty-granting cosmic power (barami). I further argue that they aid others to accumulate such power, contributing to its dissemination to the citizenry and to the making of the individual as a new king-like being. This ambiguous ‘democratization’ of kingship replicates Thailand’s process of popular empowerment, whereby social mobility and political participation remain associated with the notion of privilege. Catering to people’s most intimate ambitions and anxieties, the Thai world of divination is an exemplar locus whereby a greater struggle for the inclusion of the citizen in the political life of the kingdom becomes manifest. This study asserts that such struggle culminated in conflict, as, with the disappearance of King Bhumibol, individuals from all political faiths signaled their legitimacy as new, competing vessels of sovereign power. My theorization of sovereign power as a substance that is embodied at the level of the individual offers an alternative to existing models in the scholarship of sovereignty, and may find applications beyond Thai society.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/10278/3730389
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