Thailand’s Politics and Motorcycle Taxis

JCA Editor-in-chief Kevin Hewison reviews Claudio Sopranzetti’s Owners of the Map. Motorcycle Taxi Drivers, Mobility, and Politics in Bangkok, published by the University of California Press.

Hewison says this is an exciting book in that the reader is taken on a wild ethnographic ride through the lives and work of motorcycle taxi riders and the politics of Thailand’s decade of political turmoil. That turmoil owes its genesis to the refusal of a coterie of generals, royals, royalists and a middle class unable to accept repeated electoral victories by their opponents. The reviewer states that the engaged author:

take[s] the reader into the midst of a struggle that is marked by bouts of rollicking solidarity, gritty determination and, in the end (for the moment), devastation as the military crushes the movement, killing and wounding hundreds and arresting hundreds more. The upshot for the motorcycle taxi riders is a shattering of a momentary labour and political solidarity.

Hewison argues that, while there are some problems with the book, it is a welcome and innovative addition to the literature on Thailand’s recent politics. While the author remains optimistic about his riders and Thailand’s politics, his riders efforts at collective politics, crushed and manipulated by the military, suggest that the struggle will be a long one.

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