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In the Place of Origins: Modernity and Its Mediums in Northern Thailand (Body, Commodity, Text) Paperback – April 21, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Traveling from spirit mediumship to the ethnography of the finance capital market, In the Place of Origins combines theoretical bravura with brilliant narrative skill. As it comments on ethnographic self-fashioning in Thailand, it also examines the mediumship of disciplinary ethnography, and the alterity it so anxiously seeks to expell. This is a text of dazzling instructive simplicity.”—Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Columbia University


“With this astutely conceived and exquisitely written account of the complexities of mediumship in Thai modernity, Rosalind Morris has taken ethnographic practice to a whole new level of theoretical as well as descriptive sophistication. It is a dazzling accomplishment.”—Rey Chow, University of California, Irvine

From the Publisher

“With this astutely conceived and exquisitely written account of the complexities of mediumship in Thai modernity, Rosalind Morris has taken ethnographic practice to a whole new level of theoretical as well as descriptive sophistication. It is a dazzling accomplishment.”—Rey Chow, University of California, Irvine

“Travelling from spirit mediumship to the ethnography of the finance capital market, In the Place of Origins combines theoretical bravura with brilliant narrative skill. As it comments on ethnographic self-fashioning in Thailand, it also examines the mediumship of disciplinary ethnography, and the alterity it so anxiously seeks to expell. This is a text of dazzling instructive simplicity.”—Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Columbia University --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Body, Commodity, Text
  • Paperback: 392 pages
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books (April 21, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0822325179
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822325178
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,905,908 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
This book contains several interesting anecdotes about mediums in Northern Thailand, as well as Thai history and nation formation. If you don't know too much about Thailand, you will glean the type of insight that typically comes only after years of exposure to all things called "Thai." The bibliography is excellent.

The book's overall theme is fine. It's essentially a presentation of Northern Thailand's trendy, status-conscious clique of spirit mediums in the context of a showy and lucrative public phenomenon that displays some type of homesickness for the once-great Lanna Kingdom, which was usurped by Thai nationalism. (Described in the book as a quasi-religious opiate of the psychically impoverished masses, I will still admit to being a little bit "high" on the "almost narcotic" value of Thainess.)

However, I question the language and reason behind many parts of the book. The text is rather convoluted; you will find 5-clause sentences with heavy indulgence in parentheticals. You might find the author overly concerned with verifying the authenticity of her knowledge and experience of the culture she describes.

For example, many phrases are "translated" into transliterated Thai, perhaps needlessly: "Indeed the growth in traffic 'problems,' referred to in the all-encompassing term 'jams' (rot tid), is compulsively remarked by residents as the sign of Chiang Mai's impending loss of authenticity." The word is ''''', and it means "traffic jam." Literally, "cars (physically) stopped." The value of inserting that word in Romanized Thai is not entirely clear to me.

Extensive knowledge is asserted, and yet the book is littered with linguistic misstatements or misunderstandings. Here are the two worst offenders, both about homonyms:

1) p.
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Format: Paperback
"Dazzling" is a word that seems to come to mind when describing this book. It is used in a laudatory manner by the two academic luminaries who provided blurbs on the back cover. Rey Chow praises In the Place of Origins as "a dazzling accomplishment". For Gayatri Spivak , "this is a text of dazzling instructive simplicity." Well, I was more frazzled than dazzled by Rosalind Morris's book. And I failed to perceive its "instructive simplicity". To me, this was only a compendium of bewildering jargon, rambling descriptions, sloppy reasoning, and bad editing. It was ethnographically and theoretically uncouth. In fact, I couldn't make any sense out of it. I had to get back at my reading several times to complete the book, and I did it only for the purpose of writing a review on this website. In short, my advise to the potential reader is: spare yourself that trouble. Don't take pains to read it, for this was indeed a painful experience.

Granted, the topic is interesting. Chiang Mai and northern Thailand are fascinating places, with a distinctive culture that mixes tradition with modernity. Mediums are part of the local landscape and, far from receding from the scene, they have benefited from a veritable explosion of magical practices. People turn to mediums and spirits for personal or professional purposes: for love and marriage, power and money, health and luck. Stereotypically, those seeking advice about love and beauty are young women, those wanting luck and physical prowess, young men. Business advice is as often the concern of middle-aged women as of men, but healing is a universal need. In the homes of mediums, one is apt to encounter bankers and real estate entrepreneurs, local politicians and mafia thugs, all coming for consultation and advice.
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