Chenpitayaton, Keerati

PhD candidate (Sociology and Historical Studies)
The New School for Social Research
Expected Completion: Spring 2015

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
Comparative-Historical Sociology, Global-Transnational Sociology, Theory, Culture, & Network

I am currently a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology and Historical Studies. My long-term projects fall into two tracks. First, I use comparative and historical methods to question established assumptions in social theory, most of which are animated by conceptual dualisms. Recent scholarship has challenged these orthodoxies through comparative and historical analyses. Some dualisms I engage with are cosmopolitanism and nationalism, traditionalism and modernism, Occidentalism and Orientalism, colonizer and colonized, etc. Walking a tightrope between theory and history, I look at techniques of social organization and political control on the ground, from the actors’ point of view, and from their mobility across contexts in order to challenge dualistic assumptions. Second, I look at techniques of social organization and political control from global and transnational perspectives. Mediating between global and local, I am interested in the kinds of transnational networks and flows that interact with local signs and spaces and how they transcend national boundaries. Beyond simply understanding network as prison or pipeline, I look at their agency for change and how they get transformed in the process. My doctoral dissertation, “Forging Cosmopolitanism: Modernizing Moves, State Formation, and the Reassembling of the Social Elite in Thailand, 1855-1932” responds directly to these two tracks.

Dissertation abstract
My dissertation examines how the 19th-century cosmopolitanism shaped the Thai modernization through a series of selected case studies. By drawing from the various activities of modernizing moves propounded by the Thai elite, it seeks to identify the relationships between such global environment and local modernization. As 19th-century imperialism reached its peak, the Siamese kingdom, the only Southeast Asian state to escape European colonialism, began to feel constant pressure to stake its claim in the world arena. The Thai elite were well aware—to the point of self-consciousness—that they were the only major kingdom of the pre-modern world to survive with institutional continuity, and a degree of sovereignty, into the age of modernization. Yet, their very uniqueness meant that their sovereignty had to be constantly reconfirmed. Although the kingdom had always stressed tradition, the 19th-century context demanded its modernization.

This dissertation posits a spectrum of modernizing moves. The activities within this spectrum range from direct emulations of western imperial institutions (e.g., central government and provincial administration) to those stemming from the initiative of local elites (e.g., state religious reform). Between these two poles, four other cases suggest other kinds of activities and global-local linkages. The four cases are (1) the royal trips abroad and Thailand’s participation in the World’s Fair, (2) the abolition of the system of bondage and slavery, (3) the formation of imperial forestry, and (4) the Thai state and overseas Chinese society relationship. Accordingly, the simultaneously existing networks that ringed the globe are identified in this dissertation (e.g., the imperial environmental networks, the networks of World’s Fairs and Victorian ecumene, the imperial humanitarian networks, and the overseas Chinese networks) as the mechanisms for the global-local linkages that drove modernization.

This dissertation contributes to the three bodies of social scientific and historical scholarship. First, it speaks to the two relatively recent movements in historical sociology: the global-transnational and imperial-colonial turns. Specifically, it joins the bandwagon of the new history of 19th-century globalization to suggest a new cosmopolitan environment for cases studies. The long century has conventionally been conceived as the century of nationalism and the nation-state, whereas revisionists have begun to identify a mirage of transnational, transcontinental, and transcultural elements and forces that shaped the emergent globality in the age of modern globalization. Cosmopolitanism and nationalism were the simultaneous forces in the making of modern Thailand. Moreover, as the Thai case is considered as a case of anticolonial resistance, this dissertation relies on the literature of culture and colonialism to make sense of the cultural contact, power, and impact. Second, it engages with theories of state formation. It contends that the existing models only apply to the western European cases and to the early modern period (1500-1800). State formation beyond this space and time thus requires new understandings, especially its relationship with the global environment undergirding it. Fourth, it creates a dialogue with the recently growing scholarship reconstructing historical networks through social scientific lenses. The various 19th-century global networks that this dissertation identifies are the mechanisms for the global-local linkages that drove modernization.

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)

Selected publications

    •  “Forging Cosmopolitanism: Modernizing Moves and the Abolition of the System of Bondage and Slavery by the “Young Siam” in the late-19th Century Thailand” (Manuscript Under Review)

    •  “Siam’s Two Port Cities Before Thailand: A Comparative Analysis of Ayutthaya and Bangkok” (Invited for Submission to a Special Issue, “Port Cities in World History,” World History Connected)

    •  “Varieties of Historical Networks: Some Prospects for Future Research” (Manuscript In Progress)

    •   “Culture and the Buffer Zones: The New Imperialism and Anticolonial Resistance in Thailand and Egypt” (Manuscript In Progress)

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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