The Newsletter 91 Spring 2022

IIAS Fellow in the spotlight: Trude Renwick

Trude Renwick

IIAS Research Cluster: Asian Cities, Global Asia
12 March – 12 May 2022

Home Institute: The University of Hong Kong

Examining spaces of commerce, infrastructure, and spiritual practice in Thailand and the world

I am thrilled to begin my research period in Leiden this March. My work examines the intersection of commercial, infrastructural, and spiritual space in Thailand. While in The Netherlands, I look forward to investigating these topics through archival research, spending time in the IIAS office and university libraries, and engaging with other scholars based in the region.
My book manuscript, Eat Pray Shop, unpacks who has the right to engage in commerce and shape the commercial landscape. This ethnography examines the uneasy symbiosis of commercial and spiritual space in Bangkok and contributes to a growing body of scholarship on globalization, inequality, and urban beautification in Asia. Cases like the 2016 restrictions on street vending that deemed migrant street vendors as “greedy” and “bad,” the rebranding of Bangkok’s luxury malls as “villages” protected by local Brahmin shrines, and the renovation of shophouses into art spaces and bars themed around local Buddhist relics reveal how spirituality fuels debates surrounding the development of the commercial landscape. I am grateful to have the resources and stimulating academic environment in Leiden to further develop this work.

In addition to developing the above book proposal and manuscript, at IIAS, I will perform preliminary archival research for my next project, Peripheries Mobilized. This research examines the impact of the Chinese-sponsored Pan Asia Railway on conceptions of periphery and frontier in Thai and Lao cities along its central route. Beginning with the case of Khon Kaen, I will look at how, as key nodes along this new railway network, previously “peripheral” urban outposts of these nation-states have become the central foci for the Thai and Lao governments, as well as the private sector. State-led investments in the creative industries in urban agricultural centers like Khon Kaen have paved the way for an influx of “creatives,” who are reversing the traditional movement of labor out of this city as they reshape its image. I am therefore especially interested in exploring early images, writings, and drawings of creatives and officials in this region beginning in the mid-19th century.

The large community of scholars at IIAS doing work on urban studies in Asia and the BRI drew me to Leiden. As a result, I have confidence that my time spent here will foster collaborations with scholars engaged in the Asian Cities and Global Asia clusters and push my research in new and unexpected directions.

I am especially excited at the opportunity to spend time exploring Leiden with my partner Felice and our dog Roo Paw, who will be joining me for the duration of my stay. We look forward to ambling about nearby cities, visiting my grandmother’s hometown just outside of Dusseldorf, and, as an avid sailor, I hope to find myself on a sailboat at some point during our stay in the Netherlands.