Naming chaos: Accident, precariousness, and the spirits of wildness in urban Thai spirit cults

by Andrew Alan Johnson

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Conceptions of wildness (theuan) and accident pervade the Thai informal economy and infuse certain forms of popular religious practice. I look at the propitiation of wilderness spirits in urban Bangkok at shrines that migrant and marginal workers see as sites of hope and danger. I argue that, by naming the potential for accident and death as a spirit with which they can communicate, informal-economy workers attempt to change the potential for misfortune into its opposite. My study draws on recent work on neoliberal and precarious labor in Europe as well as connections between the occult and the economy.

photo by Andrew Alan Johnson
photo by Andrew Alan Johnson

Devotees search for numbers hidden in the bark of a tree at the impromptu shrine of Cao Mae Taanii. Bangkok. January 14, 2011. Photo by Andrew Alan Johnson.