Chenpitayaton, Keerati

PhD candidate (Sociology and Historical Studies)
The New School for Social Research
Expected Completion: Spring 2014

Curriculum Vitae (PDF)

Dissertation title:
Entrepreneurship in the Flows of Empire: Colonial Modernity and Early Industrial Patterns in the North and South of Thailand, 1855-1932

Areas of expertise
Historical Sociology (Empire and Colonial Studies); Economic Sociology; Contemporary Theory (Structure-Agency Debate and Actor-Network Theory); and Culture and Network.

I was born and grew up in Bangkok, Thailand. Living there, I have experienced a profound sense of inequality between the different regions of the country. My personal and social experiences motivate me to probe deeper into such phenomenon. As a doctoral student at The New School for Social Research, I have been trained to think historically, theoretically, and with ethnographic sensibility. My doctoral dissertation on the colonial history of Thailand is just the first step into the understanding of this phenomenon in Thailand and around the world. After graduation, my goal is to extend my work to cover contemporary concerns such as developmental, social, and environmental policies in Thailand and other post-colonial countries.

Dissertation abstract
This dissertation traces the unfolding course of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century timber and tin-mining industries in the northern and southern Thailand through the conceptual lenses of “colonial modernity.” Why do regions within the same nation pursue such different entrepreneurial strategies and develop such different industrial outlooks, even when the same sets of entrepreneurs are involved? In the earlier phase of industrialization in Thailand, the Thai aristocratic, overseas Chinese, and European firms were all involved in the northern and southern enterprises. Whereas the collaborative effort among them shaped the course of the timber industry in the north, the intense competition between these firms took place in the course of the tin-mining industry in the south. Why, then, did the northern entrepreneurial pattern unfold into a direction significantly different from that of the south? This dissertation aims at answering these questions by the historical studies of social networks among the actors working on behalf of the Thai aristocratic firms, the overseas Chinese enterprises, and the British joint-stock companies. It intends to examine the divergent patterns of industrial developments in the Northern and Southern Thailand as the two distinct patterns of “colonial modernities.” 

Such concept emerges in the literature to resolve the incommensurable tension between “Western modernity” (or societal modernization) and “alternative modernities” (or cultural modernity). Situating at the nexus between the “colonial,” the “national,” and the “modern,” it explores the interrelationships between the West and natives in shaping the unfolding course of these industries. However, I argue that the colonial modernity in Thailand was not a universal phenomenon across the nation emanating from the center to peripheries only. It was also realized in the peripheries through how the relations between concepts and actors (human and non-human) were formed in such unfolding course. By treating both the center and peripheries within the same analytic field, I arrive at a conclusion that the divergence between the northern and southern entrepreneurial patterns is closely associated with the different forms of colonial modernity in Thailand—that is, collaborative colonialism in the North and competitive colonialism in the South.

Conventional political and economic theories that focus only on the interest-group and power dynamism within the center as well as the efficiency behind these early capitalistic enterprises cannot answer why the significant variations between these two regions happened. Cultural approaches that take the core meanings as its priority also miss the material and ecological conditions that undergird different patterns. By applying the Actor-Network-Theory (ANT), or the sociology of associations that emphasizes both the symbolic and material dimensions of social networking, I examine the relations between discourses (i.e., “scientific forestry” in the north and “patrimonialism” in the south) and group formations. Furthermore, I analyze how the material and ecological conditions shaped such divergent patterns. Only through the understanding of how relations between concepts, human and non-human actors are formed can we come to grapple with such divergence. Consequently, this dissertation intends to contribute to the literatures of historical sociology (i.e., “colonial modernity”) and the new imperial history (i.e., empire as “nodes” and “networks”) through the employment of the Actor-Network Theory (ANT).

Teaching experience

  • Fall 2010-Fall 2012: TA (Teaching a Small Section), Design, Self, and Society; Parsons The New School for Design
  • Fall 2011: TA (Teaching a Small Section), The Great Transformations: Understanding the Rise of India and China; University Lecture (ULEC), The New School
  • Fall 2010: Adjunct Instructor, World Civilization I; Pratt Institute
  • Spring 2006-2013: TA, Foundation of Sociology II: Sociology & History; New School for Social Research
  • Spring 2005: TA, Fundamentals of Political Sociology; New School for Social Research

Writing samples

World Civilizations I (PDF)

Contact information:
Keerati Chenpitayaton 
Department of Sociology
The New School for Social Research
6 East 16th Street, 9th floor
New York, NY 10003 

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