Samson Lim (Public Talk): The Visual Culture of Criminal Detection in Modern Thailand

Modern criminal investigation entails the production and use of a range of visualisations, from fingerprints and photographs to maps and diagrams. In this talk, I present an analytical history of these visual practices as they have been deployed in Thailand over the past century. Through an analysis of Thai language sources including police training manuals, trial records, detective fiction, and newspaper reports, I argue that the factuality of the visual evidence used in modern criminal justice systems stem as much from formal rules (e.g. proper lighting in a crime scene photo and standardised markings on maps) as the reality of the things the evidence represents. To help illustrate this, I focus on an investigative technique, the crime scene re-enactment, in which suspects act out their alleged crimes at the location where they are said to have taken place. The demonstrations are recorded and subsequently used as evidence in criminal trials. They also appear regularly on the front pages of a vernacular press saturated with crime news, making policing in Thailand a very public and spectacular ritual.

Samson Lim is an Assistant Professor in History at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, a new university established in collaboration with MIT. He received his Ph.D. in History at Cornell University. His research examines the connections between technology, capitalism, and cultural change. His first book, Siam’s New Detectives: Visualising Crime and Conspiracy in Modern Thailand (University of Hawaii Press, 2016), is a history of the visual culture of policing and conspiracy theories in Thailand. He is currently working on a new book that analyzes the visual and material culture of finance in early twentieth century Bangkok. Samson is also one of the principle leads of the Opportunity Lab at SUTD, an interdisciplinary teaching and research centre that promotes social change through design and engineering projects throughout Southeast Asia.

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