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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 military 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?
Owners of the Map provides answers to these questions—central to contemporary political mobilizations around the globe—through an ethnographic study of motorcycle taxi drivers in Bangkok. Claudio Sopranzetti explores the unresolved tensions in the drivers’ everyday lives, their migration trajectories, consumer desires, and political demands amidst the restructuring of Thai capitalism after the 1997 economic crisis. Reconstructing the entanglements between their everyday mobility and political mobilization, Sopranzetti reveals mobility not just as a strength of contemporary capitalism but also as one of its fragile spots, always prone to disruption by the people who sustain its channels but remain excluded from their benefits. In so doing, Owners of the Map advances an analysis of power that focuses not on the sturdiness of hegemony or the ubiquity of everyday resistance but on its potential fragility as well as the work needed for its maintenance.
Claudio Sopranzetti is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at All Souls College at the University of Oxford. He is the author of Red Journeys: Inside the Thai Red Shirt Movement.
"The book immerses the reader in the kaleidoscopic realities of contemporary Bangkok—its rhythms, apertures, blockages, pretenses, and dirty business. It is written with inordinate passion and lucidity."—AbdouMaliq Simone, Research Professor, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity
"Sopranzetti's book is quite original and enjoyable to read, the scholarship strong and bold. He dares to address several big issues—such as post-ford capitalism, concepts of power in Thai Buddhist culture, popular resistance—through the fascinating story of politics of the poor in the street of Bangkok."—Thongchai Winichakul, University of Wisconsin--Madison
"Steeped in knowledge of Thai society and history, deeply engaged with social and political theory, and drawing on many years of fine-grained ethnographic research, Sopranzetti makes powerful contributions in this book to literatures on infrastructure and mobility, migration and class, and global revolts of the 2010 era that will be of interest to a wide range of readers."—Julia Elyachar, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Princeton Institute of International and Regional Studies, Princeton University and author of Markets of Dispossession: NGOs, Economic Development, and the State in Egypt