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Owners of the Map: Motorcycle Taxi Drivers, Mobility, and Politics in Bangkok Paperback – November 10, 2017
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"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
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First of all, Sopranzetti shows how motorcycle taxi drivers are vital to how Bangkok functions as a city. With a traffic system based around broad, famous avenues and a radiating, disorganized system of lanes spreading off of them, Bangkok lends itself to gridlock. Here is where motorcycles come in - they are mobile when everything else is locked. One simply cannot get around the city cheaply and easily without them, and thus understanding the taxi system is necessary to knowing how the city functions (or fails to function). Sopranzetti places this mobility in historical perspective.
Being a taxi driver, as Sopranzetti points out, involves this freedom of motion in ways far beyond traffic. "Free" in the dual-edged sense of post-Fordist economics, taxi drivers face the precarious situation of post-crisis economics, where informal labor trumps any guarantees. But this awful "freedom" is chosen by drivers despite this, and Sopranzetti gets into the dual nature of freedom and economy in Bangkok.
Finally, Sopranzetti was present during the military crackdown of 2010, when motorcycle taxi drivers became a potent political force in the "Red Shirts." The mobility enabled by the taxi drivers turned into barricades against rule by Thailand's elite and a sudden awareness of class and regional status. In this protest, and in the carnage that followed, motorcycle taxi drivers were a key player in creating a new political subjectivity in Thailand, one that challenges the hegemony of Bangkok.
This book will appeal to students, academics and general readers of infrastructure, post-Fordist economy, and contemporary Thailand. It is both theoretically exciting for academics as well as accessible for non-academics.
Yet, as an ethnography from the bottom it raises so many academic questions on concepts of class, power, infrastructures, peoples trajectories, concrete politics, differences in neoliberalism and the entrepreneurial dream and it’s demands al of which can keep academic discussion going for a while! Only later when the book is hopefully picked up by many, and hopefully the brighter kids of the very motorcycle taxi drivers around the world can think and reflects on the changes to concepts of inclusion, and the better life life will it have the political impact the author is hoping for.