Capitalism Magic Thailand: Modernity with Enchantment

Capitalism Magic Thailand: Modernity with Enchantment

Peter A Jackson

Format: Print Book

ISBN: 9789814951098

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By studying intersections among new cults of wealth, ritually empowered amulets and professional spirit mediumship—which have emerged together in Thailand’s dynamic religious field in recent decades—Capitalism Magic Thailand explores the conditions under which global modernity produces new varieties of enchantment. Bruno Latour’s account of modernity as a condition fractured between rationalizing ideology and hybridizing practice is expanded to explain the apparent paradox of new forms of magical ritual emerging alongside religious fundamentalism across a wide range of Asian societies. In Thailand, novel and increasingly popular varieties of ritual now form a symbolic complex in which originally distinct cults centred on Indian deities, Chinese gods and Thai religious and royal figures have merged in commercial spaces and media sites to sacralize the market and wealth production. Emerging within popular culture, this complex of cults of wealth, amulets and spirit mediumship is supported by all levels of Thai society, including those at the acme of economic and political power. New theoretical frameworks are presented in analyses that challenge the view that magic is a residue of premodernity, placing the dramatic transformations of cultic ritual centre stage in modern Thai history. It is concluded that modern enchantment arises at the confluence of three processes: neoliberal capitalism’s production of occult economies, the auraticizing effects of technologies of mass mediatization, and the performative force of ritual in religious fields where practice takes precedence over doctrine.

A magisterial overview of the ebullient religious imagination in contemporary Thailand, Capitalism Magic Thailand gives compelling evidence of the ways in which market-based modernity breeds novel, enchanted means of pursuing auspiciousness and profit. In Southeast Asia and elsewhere, Peter Jackson shows, magic and ritual have always been integral to the productivity of capitalism—which in its recently deregulated, multiply-mediated forms has abetted the rise of ever more vibrant cults of prosperity. Yet capitalism’s rationalist self-image often charms those who study it into disavowing its fetishes, or seeing them as relics of earlier, more primitive modes of life. Jackson’s study, both timely and erudite, will add a great deal to enduring debate about occult economies and the limits of reason.
Jean Comaroff, Alfred North Whitehead Professor of African and African American Studies and of Anthropology, Oppenheimer Research Fellow, Harvard University

Peter Jackson offers the most comprehensive and theoretically sophisticated analysis of modern Thai ritual and magic available. He not only summarizes the work of the top scholars in the field, but also contributes his own provocative insights into the myriad ways money, politics, power, aesthetics, entertainment, and individual religious aspiration influence the vast diversity of Thai Buddhist, Hindu, Animist, Taoist, and other practices. His clearly written and accessible book will be a welcome addition to the fields of anthropology, religious studies, history, and political science and generate new and contentious debates among scholars for years to come.
Justin Thomas McDaniel, Kahn Endowed Chair of the Humanities and Professor of Buddhist Studies, University of Pennsylvania

As ever, Peter Jackson offers us a rigorously argued and richly detailed work that challenges mainstream representations of Thailand head-on. He inverts the traditional characterization of Siam/Thailand as a predominantly Buddhist kingdom, steeped in prudent self-sufficiency, and instead foregrounds the capitalistic driving forces of a vibrant religious culture of magic and enchantment. His research poses vital questions not only for the way in which we understand Thailand and Southeast Asia within the academic framework of Area Studies, but also in the wider fields of Cultural Studies, Religious Studies, Anthropology, Politics and Economics. Central to this scholarly intervention, and drawing inspiration from Bruno Latour, is Jackson’s contribution to our understanding of the complex, and often seemingly “irrational” ways in which modernity is actually practiced and performed in both local and global contexts.
Rachel Harrison, Professor of Thai Cultural Studies, SOAS University of London

Format: PB

Number of Pages: 381

Publication Date: 02/01/2022

Imprint: ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute


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