ยุกติ มุกดาวิจิตร: Professor Katherine Bowie and her way of doing Thai studies

วันนี้เกิดความผิดพลาดบางอย่างทำให้บทแนะนำอาจารย์แคทเธอรีน บาววี องค์ปาฐกคนหนึ่งของงานประชุมไทยศึกษาปีนี้ที่จังหวัดเชียงใหม่ ไม่ได้ถูกนำเสนอในงานประชุม ในเมื่อผมเตรียมไปพูดแล้วแต่ไม่ได้พูด ก็ขอนำบันทึกที่ร่างไว้นี้มาเผยแพร่ในที่นี้แทนก็แล้วกัน 

Professor Katherine Bowie and her way of doing Thai studies 

It is a great honor for me and am more than delighted to introduce Professor Katherine Bowie, my former supervisor, to the distinguished scholars sitting here in the International Conference on Thai Studies. 

Professor Bowie is a British born because of her father's nationality, a Swiss raised because of her mother’s nationality, and an American person who became a mother of two successful children. This multi-cultural background might have brought her to become curious on the diversity of people and culture and thus led her to be an anthropologist. 

Professor Bowie received her Bachelor Degree in anthropology from Stanford University in 1972. She then spent longer than a decade for Master Degree and PhD in anthropology at University of Chicago. 

Her Master thesis is titled "In the Wake of the Lords: A Historical Perspective on the Role of Irrigation in the Political Economy of Northern Thailand”, and her PhD dissertation is titled "Peasant Perspectives on the Political Economy of the Northern Thai Kingdom of Chiang Mai in the Nineteenth Century: Implications for the Understanding of Peasant Political Expression." 

Since then, she continues to visit and conduct research in Thailand. 

After starting her position at University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1988 and became a full professor in 2001, Professor Bowie took various administrative statuses, for example, the director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, the chair of the cultural section of the Department of Anthropology. She now serves as the President of Association of Asian Studies. 

However, aside from devoting herself to administrative works, what make me admire and respect her so much is that she never stops doing anthropology, she never get tired of doing Thai studies even until present-day. 

If I begin to read a list of her publications, I will take over the time we should have had for listening to her speech. But I would rather introduce about what I have learned from her since the years I was at Wisconsin until present-day. 

As an anthropologist with a long commitment to her field site, Professor Bowie continues to research on Thailand for longer than 40 years, a little longer than my age. On her reflections on her own academic career, she mentioned that her research goes through a circle, starting from her interest in religious studies, which almost led her to learn Sanskrit, become a South Asianist or even Africanist; then she lives on political economy which occupies most of her works; and finally her works turn to become a loop when her recent publications and ongoing researches are on religion. 

During the years I began my PhD in anthropology at University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1998, an anthropology student asked me, “how well Bowie is known in Thailand?” I took a deep breath and reply, “I’m too ignorant to understand her influences.” 

However, today, had my friend ever asked me again, I would have replied, “Bowie is pioneering in every period of her works.” 

Her works on historical anthropology, which reflects influences of Bernard Cohn and Marxism, became a pioneer of historical anthropology in Thailand. One of her researches of this period, which are on slavery and ethnicity, became a major foundation that James Scott uses as a starting point to his controversial book on the highlanders-lowlanders relations. The works of this period also questions strongly the idea of sufficiency economy, which was a fashion among Thai academia of the 1980s. 

During the 1990s, when Thai academia began to research on the Thai left wing, very few works were focused on the Thai right wing. The book titled "Rituals of National Loyalty: An Anthropology of the State and the Village Scout Movement in Thailand" came out in 1997. I was excited to read and realized much later that, aside from Thongchai Winichakul’s works on October the 6th, not only is it the only ethnographic work on the right wing, but also it lies on a long tradition of anthropology of the state that has been established at University of Chicago since the years that Stanley Tambiah was there before moving to Harvard University. 

Furthermore, although I remember well when she was harsh on criticizing those symbolic anthropologists, despite she also took a course with Paul Ricoeur, I think Professor Bowie’s style of symbolic anthropology blends Marxist criticism into ritual analysis smoothly. 

When recent political crisis in Thailand began in 2006, I am sure that Professor Bowie might have sensed the crisis long before that so that her research in the early 2000s was on modern politics of Thai villagers. As a woman anthropologist who has never proclaimed herself a feminist, she points out how women have long been influential in Thai politics both inside and above the village levels. It is no doubt that her works of this period go along with the anthropology of democracy, the trend that others, including me, followed in the following years when Thailand steps into a political turmoil which still continue until today. 

In terms of doing anthropology, one of Professor Bowie’s persisting way of doing anthropology or I better call doing Thai studies is that, she continues her lifetime rapport with Thai villagers in northern Thailand. For any one who took her course, after we went through ethnographic readings all over the world, one field site we never missed is Bowie’s “My Village”, (I tried to imitate her pitch, but I never reach the height she hits.) Her village does not only answer almost all, but it does also question almost all. With the successfulness of her works for four decades, this ethnographic method, which Clifford Geertz once called microscopic, is proved to be useful in providing profound perspectives for theoretical development. 

Judging from the past three decades of her works that ones usually realize much later after her publication came out, Professor Bowie’s influence to Thai Studies in the next decades has waited to be learned. However, in his recent review of Thai studies in the United States, Charles F. Keyes foresees that (I quote) 

“Although work in the new array of specializations has tended to eclipse continuing work on the study of religion and society in Thailand, a few scholars persevered even in anthropology departments where such study was no longer fashionable. Significant exceptions to the contemporary anthropological disdain for the study of religious practice have been at Wisconsin and Cornell.” 

Then he introduces Professor Bowie’s recent works on Vessantara Jataka and Kruba Srivichai. 

Without further ado, please welcome Professor Katherine Bowie and enjoy her lecture titled "Kruba Srivichai: from sacred biography to national historiography."

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