I am currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at All Souls College at Oxford University, a Research Associate at the Programme for the Future of Cities, and I lecture in the Oxford Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology. My work largely focuses on urbanism, economic restructuring, and their relations to new forms of political mobilization.
I just completed my second book, Owners of the Map: Motorcycle Taxi Drivers, Mobility, and Politics in Bangkok and already under contract with University of California Press. The text centers on post-1997 crisis Thailand and provides the first academic analysis of the Red Shirts, the largest social movement in Thai history to date. In this research, funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the Social Science Research Council, I explore it through an ethnographic study of some of the 200,000 motorcycle taxi drivers who control Bangkok’s urban mobility and man its political mobilizations. I analyze their appearance since the economic crisis as flexible workers, their everyday life in contemporary Bangkok, and their emergence as pivotal political actors and mobilizers in protest. While their presence in the city is structured by the logic of post-Fordist capital circulation, I show, the drivers retain the potential not only to facilitate the circulation of people, goods, and information but also to filter, slow-down, and—at times—sever urban flows and claim ownership over them. This potential was harnessed in the Red Shirt protests that culminated in May 2010, which I have more pointedly analyzed in my 2012 book, Red Journeys: Inside the Thai Red Shirts. While Red Journeys explored the motivations, demands, and everyday experiences of general protesters who took over and occupied the commercial and financial center of Bangkok, my new book focuses on the role of operators of urban mobility in political uprisings and guerilla confrontations. In this sense, Owners of the Map explores mobility not just as a strength of contemporary capitalism and a characteristic of its everyday operations but also as one of its fragile spots, always prone to disruption by the people who sustain channels of economic, social, and conceptual exchange yet remain excluded from their benefits. By exploring this apparent contradiction, my work advances a new theory of power, one that does not focus on the sturdiness of hegemony or the ubiquity of everyday resistance but rather reveals its potential fragility and openness to challenges by pointed collective actions.
Stemming from this manuscript, my research agenda contributes to broad theorizations of emerging logics of capital, everyday life, and political mobilization, both in the Global South and in Europe. While these three lines of inquiry have dominated social sciences in the last decades, they have often remained separated and, at times, generated opposing and conflicting theoretical reflections. Marxism, phenomenology, and post-structuralism all struggled with reconciling these three levels, but often overemphasize their separation and relative hierarchy. Classical Marxism, for instance, has often reduced everyday life and political relations to the logic of capitals and its contradictions. Phenomenology, on the contrary, has elevated everyday life to the realm of an irreducible universal, frequently underestimating the other two aspects. Finally, post-structuralism has expanded the realm of power relations so widely to make other considerations secondary and, in the process, leaving little space for everyday acts of political subversion and for the structural logic of capital. Many scholars have worked in between these three schools and have generated invaluable products from this position. Such productive engagements, however, have been largely pursued by dodging or resolving the contradictions between the three schools and levels. My work, on the contrary, strive to analyze concretely the entanglement and constant tension among emerging logics of capital, their demands and restructuring of everyday life, and its resulting emergence as a ground of political struggle.
Following this agenda, since the beginning of my postdoctoral fellowship I have published in international journals of Asian and urban studies as well as anthropology and I have been developing two new book-length projects. The first is called The Sound of the Growing Forest: Politics of Everyday Life in Austerity Italy and explores emerging forms of urban politics in the context of the expanding precariat in Italy. This text, for which I have already conducted six months of research, will explore popular reactions to the restructuring of the welfare state and the destruction of individual aspirations in the face of financialization of everyday life and European-enforced austerity measures. Through an ethnographic study of emerging political practices—namely a collective housing occupation in Milan, a networks of rural producers, food certification techniques, and urban markets in Central Italy, and an complementary currency in Sardinia—I explore new forms of politics in which the expansion of shock capitalism is warded off by reclaiming everyday life as the ultimate terrain of struggle, rebuilding new forms of trust and sovereignty, and proposing sustainable alternatives to its logic. In this sense, The Sound of the Growing Forest will provide a significant contribution to the literature on post-capitalist economies, forms of mobilization that refuse to be framed as political, and on the relation between capitalist restructuring, everyday life, and political mobilizations. The second book-length project, for which I have collected significant preliminary data, is titled Horizontal Urbanism: African traders, Mobility, and the Making of the Urban South. In it, I extend my mode of analysis to a larger scale and explore the growing community of African traders in Bangkok. Although these merchants have established their presence in the Thai rice and textile industries since the 1980s, only in the last decade have their activities become socially and economically significant for the city. Attracted by the rise of Asian economies, the traders have repositioned Bangkok as a relatively cheap and easy-to-navigate base for operations inside a growing network connecting African cities—through the Arabic Peninsula—with booming East Asian urban centers. This book explores their techniques in creating and sustaining global circuits of mobility, commerce, and exchange. Following the traders along their trajectories, my project investigates their struggles to negotiate and challenge social structures and practices of urban life both in Bangkok and along the transnational paths they travel. I will recover the roles of mediators who, even if central to the operations of contemporary capitalism, are rarely considered in the theorization of global urbanism. In this sense, Horizontal Urbanism provides new ways of theorizing urban experience in the Global South and understanding both urbanization and globalization beyond dominant node-centered and hierarchically structured theories.
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