Claudio Sopranzetti, Postdoctoral Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford University and Research Associate, Oxford Future of Cities Centre

The fragility of power: motorcycle taxis and urban protest in contemporary Bangkok

This talk develops a tactical analysis of state power in contemporary Thailand by focusing on the relations between the lines of force and the fault lines that traverse it and the mechanisms through which their relations are managed, challenged and, at times, subverted. I do so in three acts. In Act 1, I investigate motorcycle taxi drivers in Bangkok and show how, during the 2010 Red Shirts protest, they revealed cracks in the state apparatus and its inability to control its own territory and subjects. In Act 2, I zoom out from the drivers and explore how, in the following year, these cracks expanded into larger fault lines in state’s royalist hegemony. Finally, in Act 3, I explore the army’s intervention since the 2014 coup as an attempt to fill in the fault lines that had emerged in 2010 by retaking control over the drivers’ mobility, persecuting any challenge to royalist hegemony, and dispelling new mobilization through repression. Through this analysis, I recognize the maintenance work needed to keep up state power, the fragilities it creates, and the political possibilities that emerge in its cracks and fault lines. Through this lens, power is revealed as constantly bounded by its own actions and tactics, as well as by those of its subjects.

Claudio Sopranzetti is a Posdoctoral Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford University. He received his PhD in anthropology from Harvard University in 2013 with a dissertation titled "The Owners of the Map: mobility and politics among motorcycle taxi drivers in Bangkok." He is also the author of "Red Journeys: inside the Thai Red Shirts movement," an ethnographic account of the 2010 protest in the Thai capital.

All seminars in the series.