Siam's New Detectives
Visualizing Crime and Conspiracy in Modern Thailand
University of Hawaii Press 2016
Siam’s New Detectives: Visualizing Crime and Conspiracy in Modern Thailand (University of Hawaii Press, 2016) is a rewarding, multilayered study of how Thailand became the Kingdom of Crime, and its police, masters of simulation and representation. While working towards an account of the visual culture of criminality, Samson Lim carefully documents the establishment and growth of the police force in Thailand, hitherto Siam, and its adoption of technologies to identify, name, class, measure, investigate and explain criminal phenomena. Photography, mapping and fingerprinting altered fundamentally conceptions of what constituted evidence. Perceptions of what crime is and how it can be captured for presentation at trial also underwent profound change. According to Lim “the determination of how things should look became a key preoccupation of the state.” With time, crime scene reconstruction morphed into a powerful new genre of reenactment, which ostensibly helps to organize existing knowledge about crime, while in fact doing something altogether different. Together, Lim convincingly shows, reconstruction and reenactment have brought the criminal act to life, not only for the purposes of assembled judges, but perhaps even more importantly, for the cameras of assembled journalists. Need proof? Look no further than the cover of your typical Bangkok daily.
Samson Lim joins New Books in Southeast Asian Studies to talk about the chronotope of crime, science and technology studies, epistemological history, modus operandi, the aesthetics of reenactment, and, of course, murder in Thailand’s vernacular press.
Nick Cheesman is a fellow at the College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University and in 2016-17 a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. He can be reached at email@example.com.