In this presentation, Duncan McCargo makes the case for using political ethnography as a primary research method for understanding contentious issues in Southeast Asia. He discusses some of his experiences in deploying this approach during three year-long periods of fieldwork in Thailand. The first project involved participant observation research inside the newsrooms of Bangkok’s leading Thai language dailies, asking what kind of political role the media performs: just how much participation could an academic observer get away with? A decade later, a thousand kilometers away from the capital in the country’s Muslim-majority Southern border provinces, McCargo traveled around Patani in an attempt to understand the underlying causes of an ongoing violent insurgency that had already claimed thousands of lives. Most recently, he spent 2012 conducting fieldwork in Thai courts and police stations, seeking to examine the interplay between justice and politics. His presentation aims to stimulate discussion about how best to conduct academic research in a rapidly changing region where many political and social issues are highly charged and emotive.
Duncan McCargo is Professor of Political Science at the University of Leeds and Visiting Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, teaching alternate semesters in Yorkshire and New York. He has published ten books on Asian politics, including a best-seller, The Thaksinization of Thailand (with Ukrist Pathmanand, NIAS 2005), and the award-winning Tearing Apart the Land: Islam and Legitimacy in Southern Thailand (Cornell 2008). McCargo spent the 2015-16 academic year as a resident scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton; and is currently the President of the European Association for Southeast Asian Studies (EuroSEAS).