Accepted Paper:

Penetrating the body: spirit possession at a school in Southern Thailand and an anthropology of affect  


Ryoko Nishii (Research Institute of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies)

Paper short abstract:

Through examining field data of spirit possession phenomena this paper aims to introduce new aspects of anthropological thinking by applying affect theory and thereby setting the physical body/self into a fluctuating, living world.

Paper long abstract:

On 16 November 2004 at morning assembly in a junior high school in Southern Thailand, four pupils fainted. This event was the start of a series of similar group incidents at the school which were attributed to spirit possession. By December, the events began to receive attention in the mass media and the school became known all over Thailand as the ‘School Possessed by Spirits.’ Studies of possession have largely been based on assumptions of possession as an example of people behaving in non-rational ways, and a mind?body duality. This paper will introduce new perspectives on aspects of people’s lives by focusing on ‘affect’, and attempt to go beyond previous anthropological discussions of possession phenomena by focusing on the body as the locus

of possession. Affect is described by Deleuze - derived from Spinoza’s ideas - as shedding light on the process of effects not only between person-to-person, but also between persons and things beyond the theory of subject. The Anthropology of Affect sets the body in the living flux of the world based on the relational aspects for achieving communality through personal experience. In anthropological theories following the ‘linguistic turn’, relational viewpoints emerged, such as those of Bruno Latour, Marilyn Strathern, and Alfred Gell, which try to grasp an actuality of the world beyond the conventional dualism of subject/object and mind/body. This paper aims to develop this relational aspect by considering the body in the phenomena of spirit possession as penetrating subject and object.

Panel P059
Anthropology through the experience of the physical body