Beginning in 2020, young people in Thailand have led rallies to protest the interference of the military and the monarchy in politics. They have also condemned the role played by Buddhist discourse and court ritual in celebrating kings as divine. ‘No God, No King, Only Human’ reads a protest sign. Simultaneously, however, some groups of protesters have used the same ‘religious’ repertoire, such as the astrological tradition of the court, in their activism, turning it into an instrument of resistance. This article explores this apparent ambivalence via an ethnographic focus on divination, a long-standing central feature of Thai politics. Drawing from a decade of fieldwork conducted with diviners (mo du) and their clients from both pro-regime and pro-democracy camps, including prominent young activists, I argue that progressive individuals do not necessarily need to reject cosmological ideas and rituals deemed conservative in order to resist. Rather, many proactively co-opt them to enhance their own position in the polity, further demonstrating the inability of those in power to live up to accepted moral standards. This strategy, which builds on a Southeast Asian tradition of millenarianism, mobilises dogmatic notions including karma in support of narratives and practices of resistance.

Co-opting the stars: Divination and the politics of resistance in Buddhist Thailand

Edoardo Siani
2023-01-01

Abstract

Beginning in 2020, young people in Thailand have led rallies to protest the interference of the military and the monarchy in politics. They have also condemned the role played by Buddhist discourse and court ritual in celebrating kings as divine. ‘No God, No King, Only Human’ reads a protest sign. Simultaneously, however, some groups of protesters have used the same ‘religious’ repertoire, such as the astrological tradition of the court, in their activism, turning it into an instrument of resistance. This article explores this apparent ambivalence via an ethnographic focus on divination, a long-standing central feature of Thai politics. Drawing from a decade of fieldwork conducted with diviners (mo du) and their clients from both pro-regime and pro-democracy camps, including prominent young activists, I argue that progressive individuals do not necessarily need to reject cosmological ideas and rituals deemed conservative in order to resist. Rather, many proactively co-opt them to enhance their own position in the polity, further demonstrating the inability of those in power to live up to accepted moral standards. This strategy, which builds on a Southeast Asian tradition of millenarianism, mobilises dogmatic notions including karma in support of narratives and practices of resistance.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/10278/5023200
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