Capitalism Magic Thailand: Modernity with Enchantment
By studying intersections among new cults of wealth, ritually empowered amulets and professional spirit mediumship—which have emerged together in Thailand’s dynamic religious field in recent decades—Capitalism Magic Thailand explores the conditions under which global modernity produces new varieties of enchantment. Bruno Latour’s account of modernity as a condition fractured between rationalizing ideology and hybridizing practice is expanded to explain the apparent paradox of new forms of magical ritual emerging alongside religious fundamentalism across a wide range of Asian societies. In Thailand, novel and increasingly popular varieties of ritual now form a symbolic complex in which originally distinct cults centred on Indian deities, Chinese gods and Thai religious and royal figures have merged in commercial spaces and media sites to sacralize the market and wealth production. Emerging within popular culture, this complex of cults of wealth, amulets and spirit mediumship is supported by all levels of Thai society, including those at the acme of economic and political power. New theoretical frameworks are presented in analyses that challenge the view that magic is a residue of premodernity, placing the dramatic transformations of cultic ritual centre stage in modern Thai history. It is concluded that modern enchantment arises at the confluence of three processes: neoliberal capitalism’s production of occult economies, the auraticizing effects of technologies of mass mediatization, and the performative force of ritual in religious fields where practice takes precedence over doctrine.
ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute
1 Jan 2022 – 30 Nov 2022
Art and Culture