Research seminar in Cultural Anthropology with Andrew Alan Johnson

  • Date: –12:00
  • Location: Engelska parken Room Eng/3-2028
  • Lecturer: Andrew Alan Johnson is a cultural anthropologist whose work examines urban planning, memory and haunting, and human and nonhuman worlds in Thailand, especially in the Lao-speaking Northeast. He is the author of Ghosts of the New City and Mekong Dreaming, as well as multiple journal articles. He received his PhD from Cornell University in 2010 and has previously taught at Yale-NUS College in Singapore, Princeton University, and most recently at Ashoka University.
  • Organiser: The Department of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology
  • Contact person: Chakad Ojani
  • Seminarium

Dreams of Past Cities: Canals, ghosts, and ruin in Bangkok

Bangkok, like most cities, is built on the bones of what went before. As Walter Benjamin noted for Paris, this is the way of cities, where successive layers of human habitation rise, burying earlier cities, their unrealized futures and ways of being, in excess after excess. In Bangkok, urban canal networks provide a parallel grid that exists alongside its car-centered layout – canals that, though contained within concrete and often paved over, re-emerge in flood season. Other reminders of what was likewise return: stumps of massive trees unearthed in construction projects, frames of sunken boats dredged out of vacant lots. These become sites of veneration or fear – places where accident-causing spirits dwell, but also sites of potential. What do we do with these traces, and how do they haunt?

Here, I look at the possibilities opened up by such hauntings – how do Bangkok’s futures (including possible, forgotten, or abandoned futures) emerge to haunt its present? How, too, can such a perspective add to our own work on ruin, memory, and the tension between the human city and its nonhuman foundations?