In the Place of Origins: Modernity and its Mediums in Northern Thailand


In the Place of Origins tells the tale of modernity in Northern Thailand, discerning its oblique signs in the performances of contemporary spirit mediums. In a world riven by the twin fantasies of pastness and newness, Rosalind C. Morris reveals that spirit mediumship is not simply a theater of atavistic tendency but an arena in which it is possible to read the relationships between new forms of representation and subjectivity, as well as new modes of magic and political power.
Through a careful examination of the transformations of spirit mediumship wrought by the mass media, the book takes readers into the world of the northern Thai past to discover the anticipations of future histories. In this process, we find new objects for anthropological inquiry, including romantic love and epistolary poetry. The book then turns toward the relationships between commodification and prosaic form and photography and the discourses of gendered and national identity. Attending to these issues as they manifest themselves in the practices of mediums, the text describes both the mundane activities of spirit mediums and the grand ambitions to political authority that are embodied in the increasingly spectacular forms of possession that, in the late 1990s, were becoming so popular with both tourists and local culture brokers. In the Place of Origins traverses this ground with accounts of right-wing militarism and ritual revival during the 70s, and of the democracy movement of 1992, when a global mass media was galvanized by images of military repression and the spectacle of traditional ritual power in cursing. Finally, considering the claims that mediums make to magical power in the face of both AIDS and the Asian economic crisis, the book reveals the potency of extrajudicial forms of power and violence in the late modern era.

Buy it here: Duke University Press, 2000