ICS Seminar Series - Michael Herzfeld

Date: Thursday 3 August 2017
Time: 11.30am–1pm
Venue: EB.G.02, Western Sydney University, Parramatta South campus

Michael Herzfeld

(Harvard University)

Bangkok Beauty, Bangkok Beast: the Tragic Consequences of a Crypto-Colonial Vision


In this talk, Michael Herzfeld will discuss the current policies that are, he argues, destroying the social heart of old Bangkok in favour of a neoliberal, modernist and consumerist vision that owes a great deal to outmoded Western models and to the deliberate erasure of working-class history. He will trace the ideological and aesthetic origins of those models to the imposition of British and French cultural and administrative principles, especially during the 19th century, and to the consequent calibration of national culture to a colonial ideology that belies an official historiography grounded in the idea that Thailand has never been colonised. In the final segment of the talk, the speaker will lay out these ideas in a comparative framework, utilising insights gained from his field research in southern Europe.


Michael Herzfeld is Ernest E. Monrad Professor of the Social Sciences in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University, where has taught since 1991, and where he serves as Director of the Asia Center's Thai Studies Program. He is also IIAS Visiting Professor of Critical Heritage Studies at the University of Leiden (and Senior Advisor to the Critical Heritage Studies Initiative of the International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden); Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne; and Visiting Professor and Chang Jiang (Yangtze River) Scholar at Shanghai International Studies University (2015-17). The author of eleven books - including Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation-State (1997; 3rd edition, 2016), The Body Impolitic: Artisans and Artifice in the Global Hierarchy of Value (2004), Evicted from Eternity: The Restructuring of Modern Rome (2009), and Siege of the Spirits: Community and Polity in Bangkok (2016) - and numerous articles and reviews, he has also produced two ethnographic films (Monti Moments [2007] and Roman Restaurant Rhythms [2011]). He has served as editor of American Ethnologist (1995-98) and is currently editor-at-large (responsible for 'Polyglot Perspectives') at Anthropological Quarterly. He is also a member of the editorial boards of several journals, including American Ethnologist, Anthropology Today, International Journal of Heritage Studies, Journal of Anthropological Research, and South East Asia Research. An advocate for 'engaged anthropology', he has conducted research in Greece, Italy, and Thailand on, inter alia, the social and political impact of historic conservation and gentrification, the social effects of urban policy, the discourses and practices of crypto-colonialism, social poetics, the dynamics of nationalism and bureaucracy, and the ethnography of knowledge among artisans and intellectuals.