CCSCS honorary fellow 2016-2020

Selected Publication with special focus on Thailand

Professor Michael Herzfeld

Apprentices and Artisans in a Bangkok Neighbourhood

Little is known of the ways in which Thai artisans transmit their knowledge to succeeding generations, or whether the current economic structure of society favors the survival of craft knowledge. I have conducted such research in Greece (Herzfeld 2004); many studies from other parts of the world are also available (e.g., Kondo 1990 for Japan; Terrio 2000 for France; and Coy 1989 for comparative studies). The goal of this project is to bring Thailand, an important site for traditional crafts, into this larger picture.

The research methodology will be ethnographic and will be centered on the community of artisans living in Rattanakosin Island, Bangkok. I will explore the kinship structure of the community as well as its social and trade connections with other parts of the country; the history of apprenticeship in the area; teaching and learning of craft techniques; and the community’s goals for the future. The objective is to produce an ethnography that will be useful for scholars but that will also highlight the originality and specificity of Thailand’s urban craftspeople.

The rationale for conducting this work in Thailand has to do with Thailand’s importance as a site of craft production. European craft production is in decline; the Thai economy can more effectively support it than most European economies, and it provides income as well as artistic knowledge for many groups of people as well as the basis for the projection of Thai culture abroad. It is important to know how this knowledge is transmitted so that the loss of such knowledge, such as I have documented it for Greece, does not occur in Thailand. There are very few such studies for Thailand. Research output will contribute to a) the anthropological study of artisanship and apprenticeship and b) improved understanding of knowledge transmission among Thai artisans, which would be valuable in planning policy for the support of artisanship in traditional crafts.


  • Coy, Michael. 1989. Apprenticeship: From Theory to Method and Back Again. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  • Herzfeld, Michael. 2004. The Body Impolitic: Artisans and Artifice in the Global Hierarchy of Value. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Herzfeld, Michael. 2016. Siege of the Spirits: Community and Polity in Bangkok. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Kondo, Dorinne. 1990. Crafting Selves: Power, Gender, and Discourses of Identity in a Japanese Workplace. Chicago: Chicago University Press
  • Terrio, Susan J. 2000. Crafting the History and Culture of French Chocolate. Berkeley: University of Chicago Press.
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