Owners of the Map: Motorcycle Taxi Drivers, Mobility, and Politics in Bangkok

Lecture: Center for Southeast Asia Studies | March 8 | 5-6:30 p.m. | 106 Wurster Hall

 Claudio Sopranzetti, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, All Souls College, University of Oxford

 Center for Southeast Asia Studies, Institute of Transportation Studies, Center of Global Metropolitan Studies

On May 19, 2010, the Royal Thai Army deployed tanks, snipers, and war weapons to disperse the thousands of Red Shirts protesters who had taken over the commercial center of Bangkok to demand democratic elections and an end to inequality. Key to this mobilization were motorcycle taxi drivers, who slowed down, filtered, and severed mobility in the area, claiming a prominent role in national politics and ownership over the city and challenging state hegemony. Four years later, on May 20, 2014, the same army general who directed the dispersal staged a coup, unopposed by protesters. How could state power have been so fragile and open to challenge in 2010 and yet so seemingly sturdy only four years later? How could protesters who had once fearlessly resisted military attacks now remain silent? This talk provides answers to these questions—central to contemporary political mobilizations around the globe—through an ethnographic study of motorcycle taxi drivers in Bangkok and advances an analysis of power that focuses not on the sturdiness of hegemony or the ubiquity of everyday resistance but on its potential fragility and the work needed for its maintenance.

Claudio Sopranzetti received his Ph.D. in anthropology from Harvard University in 2013. He is the author of Owners of the Maps: Motorcycle Taxi Drivers, Mobility, and Politics in Bangkok (UC Press, 2017) and Red Journeys: Inside the Thai Red Shirts (University of Washington Press, 2012). He is currently working on an anthropological graphic novel on Thai politics.

 CA, cseas@berkeley.edu, 510-642-3609