When the army brutally dispersed Red Shirts protestors in Bangkok's busy commercial district in May 2010, motorcycle taxi drivers emerged as a key force, capable of playing cat-and-mouse with security forces, evading military checkpoints, and rescuing protestors and their leaders once the army attacked them. Motorcycle taxis are ubiquitous across the developing world. Dexterously weaving in and out of dense urban conurbations, they transport people, commodities and news through peak traffic with an unparalleled knowledge of the city. They are owners of the map.
In his vividly etched monograph, Owners of the Map: Motorcycle Taxi Drivers, Mobility and Politics in Bangkok
(University of California Press, 2017), Claudio Sopranzetti
moves across the city and between city and country to examine how migrant laborers driven off the factory floor following structural adjustment reforms in the late-1990s turned to motorcycle taxi driving as a form of flexible and yet unfree means of livelihood. Owners of the Map
not only confronts the specific realities of ordinary Thais resisting military authoritarianism over a decade-long period, but also the question of how modes of circulation can become sites of collective action, particularly for precarious workers, in the neoliberal moment.
Sopranzetti is a Postdoctoral Fellow at All Souls College, University of Oxford.
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Madhuri Karak is a Ph.D. candidate in cultural anthropology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. Her dissertation titled "Part-time Insurgents, Civil War and Extractive Capital in an Adivasi Frontier" explores processes of state-making in the bauxite-rich mountains of southern Odisha, India. She tweets @madhurikarak and more of her work can be found here.