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Exploration and Irony in Studies of Siam over Forty Years

Exploration and Irony in Studies of Siam over Forty Years
Benedict R. O’G. Anderson
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Benedict R. O’G. Anderson is internationally recognized for his groundbreaking work on the politics and cultures of Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines. His early studies of Indonesia led to the publication of Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, a book that profoundly changed the way people understand modern states. Banned from returning to Indonesia after his interpretation of the 1965 coup was published, Anderson shifted his attention to Thailand. This collection of essays gathers in one book Anderson’s iconoclastic analyses of Siam (Thailand), its political institutions and bloody upheavals, its literature, authors, and contemporary cinema. 

The volume begins with the challenging essay “Studies of the Thai State: The State of Thai Studies,” followed by chapters that map shifts of power between the Left and Right in Thailand, the role of the monarchy, and the significance of the military. The final essays track Anderson’s own evolution as a student of Siam and his growing, more playful interest in billboards, ephemera, and film. Together, these works demonstrate an extraordinary scholar’s commitment to exploring Thailand.


Benedict R. O’G. Anderson was the Aaron L. Binenkorb Professor Emeritus of International Studies, Government, and Asian Studies at Cornell University until his death in 2015. His works include Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (1983, 2006); Language and Power: Exploring Political Cultures in Indonesia (2006); and The Spectre of Comparisons: Nationalism, Southeast Asia, and the World (1998).


Anderson often sees a Thailand that others do not. He makes observations and asks questions that are unexpected, unsettling, and disturbing to those of us who study Thailand. His writings in this book not only are about Thai politics and society since the 1960s to the present day, they also exemplify the art of questioning and of introducing puzzlements that often get into my head and refuse to leave, causing me headaches for years.— Prof. Thongchai Winichakul, University of Wisconsin–Madison, author of Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-body of a Nation

What the reviewers are saying …

[Anderson’s] work is characteristically iconoclastic … [it] is authoritative enough to see the ups and downs of a generation of Thai intellectuals (whom he personally knew), how they rose up against domination, and how they (thirty years later) were co-opted by power … [This collection] is a great country study much like [his] Language and Power [is for Indonesia] …" —Abidin Kusno, Pacific Affairs

… the various essays, articles, and reviews that make up this book reflect the wonderful skepticism, relentless questioning, daring iconoclasm, contrarian perspective, critical intelligence, penetrating insight, mordant humor, wide-ranging and in-depth knowledge of the country, its people, and beyond—and above all, the tender and deeply felt love and care which Professor Ben Anderson, the world-renowned doyen of nationalism and Southeast Asian Studies at Cornell University, has consistently brought to the study of Siam/Thailand over the past forty years.—Kasian Tejapira, Southeast Asian Studies

The incisiveness of Anderson's critiques of Thai society and its most powerful institutions may arise partly from his ability to be both an insider and an outsider to the country.—Linda B. Glaser, Cornell Chronicle


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