Duncan McCargo

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Duncan McCargo
Alma mater School of Oriental and African Studies (Ph.D., M.A.)
Royal Holloway (B.A.)
Institutions University of Leeds
Queen's University Belfast
Kobe Gakuin University
Main interests
Thailand politics
Notable ideas
Network monarchy

Duncan McCargo is a professor of political science at the University of Leeds. His work deals mainly with the nature of power: how entrenched elites seek to retain it, and how challengers seek to undermine their legitimacy. He is best known for his writing on contemporary Thailand and Asia-related topics. He holds three degrees from the University of London: a First in English (Royal Holloway 1986); an MA in Area Studies (Southeast Asia) (1990); and a PhD in politics (1993) (the later two from the School of Oriental and African Studies). He has taught at Queen's University Belfast, and at Kobe Gakuin University, Japan. In 2006-07, he was a visiting senior research fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, while he served as a distinguished visiting professor at Universiti Utara Malaysia in September 2011. McCargo is a visiting scholar at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University, an associate fellow of the New-York-based Asia Society, and an associate fellow at Chatham House in London.

Writings on Thailand[edit]

McCargo's PhD thesis, The political leadership of Major-General Chamlong Srimuang was published in a revised form as a 1997 book. Since then McCargo has published several other books on Thailand. These include: Politics and the Press in Thailand (2000), a fieldwork-based study for which he spent a year embedded in the editorial rooms of several leading Thai language newspapers; Reforming Thai Politics (2002) an edited volume which has become the standard work on the political reform process of the 1990s, containing chapters by a range of leading Thai and foreign scholars and activists; and The Thaksinization of Thailand, an analysis of the politics surrounding controversial former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, co-authored with the revisionist political economist Ukrist Pathamanand.

Apart from his ten books, all of which have appeared in paperback, McCargo has published a number of articles in journals including Critical Asian Studies, Journal of Asian Studies, Journal of Democracy and New Left Review. His writings regarding the "network monarchy", a term he coined to describe King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his proxies, particularly former Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanond, have been influential among Thai academics. His was the only journal article selected by Foreign Affairs for their seven-item list of essential reading on Thai politics.

Other McCargo articles deal critically with issues such as constitutionalism, the politics surrounding Buddhism, and the role of the military. He was critical of the 2006 military coup in Thailand.[1] McCargo has consistently challenged mainstream assumptions in Thai studies and beyond, questioning the value of narrowly discipline-based perspectives in favour of more eclectic and empirically grounded approaches.[2]

Work on the southern Thai conflict[edit]

From 2005 to 2010, McCargo worked primarily on the violent conflict affecting Thailand’s southern border provinces, spending a year driving around the region and interviewing more than 270 informants. His southern Thai project has resulted in three books to date: the edited collection Rethinking Thailand’s Southern Violence (2007), a revised version of a special issue of the journal Critical Asian Studies; and his research monograph Tearing Apart the Land: Islam and Legitimacy in Southern Thailand (2008). The latter volume has been widely reviewed; Time magazine wrote, "No armchairs for this author: he researched the book by crisscrossing southern Thailand in a temperamental 1989 Mercedes, hastening back to the town of Pattani by nightfall to avoid militant booby traps. McCargo is the real McCoy."[3]

Pacific Affairs wrote of Tearing Apart the Land: "The nuances and complexities of this argument can be obtained only by a thorough reading of the book. It is by far the best analysis to date of the complexities of life in the insurgent area." (Volume 82, No. 4 – Winter 2009/2010, pp. 740–41). In a full length review essay in London Review of Books, Joshua Kurlantzick declared, "Thailand, once known as one of the most stable democracies in Asia, is in political and economic crisis....Southern Thailand now resembles a war zone....McCargo gives a thorough explanation of why unrest began in southern Thailand, and why it has spread..." (25 March 2010). Reviewing the book in the Journal of Asian Studies (May 1010) Robert W. Hefner wrote, "McCargo has sifted through the details of this tragic conflict with extraordinary diligence and insight. The result is a small masterpiece of investigative rigor and balance."[citation needed]

McCargo’s core argument is that the southern conflict is a political problem. Militants tap into local resentment concerning Bangkok’s refusal to grant the region any real say in the management of its affairs. Without some form of political compromise, the conflict may prove intractable, but a solution remains perfectly possible.

Tearing Apart the Land won the Asia Society's inaugural Bernard Schwartz Book Prize for 2009, worth US$20,000.[citation needed] Jury co-chair Professor Carol Gluck described it as a "vivid on-the-ground account of the Thai insurgency showing how national politics, rather than minority religion, drives the violence that is too often ascribed either to ethnicity or Islam. This is a lesson that applies not only to Southeast Asia but to many parts of the world."[citation needed] McCargo published a second book on the south, Mapping National Anxieties: Thailand's Southern Conflict in 2012.

Writings on media and politics[edit]

Not all of McCargo’s work has been on Thailand. He has also conducted research in Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Japan. His 2003 book Media and Politics in Pacific Asia, a companion volume to his Thai press volume, develops a comparative argument, arguing against simply "modelling" the political role of the media, in favour of an eclectic approach emphasising the different forms of agency deployed by media actors. This work has won him an audience in the field of communications studies, whose standard assumptions he regularly challenges. In 2012 he published a chapter in Comparing Media Systems: Beyond the Western World, a book edited by Dan Hallin and Paolo Mancini. The chapter contains his critical responses to their earlier comparative work on developing models for the relationship between media and politics.

Writings on religion and politics[edit]

Religion has been a central theme of McCargo's work, dating back to his doctoral research on Chamlong's links with the Santi Asoke Buddhist movement. His writings on Thai Buddhism, which he has suggested is an obstacle to, rather than an asset for processes of democratization in the country, have generated controversy in Thailand, and have been extensively challenged in two recent books by the leading scholar-monk Prayudh Payutto. His work on the southern Thai conflict dealt extensively with the role of Islam in Thailand's Malay-majority region.

Writings on other Asian countries[edit]

McCargo has also edited a book on Vietnam (2004). He is one of the very few Southeast Asia specialists to have published a well-known volume on a different part of Asia; his book Contemporary Japan (third edition forthcoming) is widely assigned even by Japanologists as an introductory student text.

Other activities[edit]

As one of the world’s leading experts on contemporary Thailand, McCargo regularly appears as a media commentator, pundit, and writer of op-ed pieces. He appears regularly in the broadcast media, especially on BBC radio and television, and his op-ed and commentary pieces have appeared in Time magazine, as well as in the Guardian Weekly, The Telegraph,[4] The Economist,[5] The Guardian,[6][7][8]and The Independent[9] and a dozen other newspapers around the world. He has given lengthy interviews to The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New Mandala website. Twenty of his students have successfully earned PhDs under his supervision at Leeds.

McCargo is cited by his undergraduate alma mater, Royal Holloway, as one of their notable alumni in the field of education.[10]

In 2010 he was awarded an honorary doctorate in Tai Studies by Mahasarakham University in Thailand.[11] McCargo is one of only five recipients of this degree. Other awardees have been historians Charnvit Kasetsiri and Thongchai Winichakul, anthropologist Charles Keyes, and archaeologist Srisak Vallibhotama.

McCargo has served twice as the head of the School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds. He was appointed an Academician of the Academy of Social Sciences in 2011, nominated by the Political Studies Association. Since October 2011, he has held a Leverhulme Trust major research fellowship to examine issues relating to justice and politics in Thailand.

On 12 April, McCargo made his stage debut at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City. He co-starred in Titanic Tales: Stories of Courage and Cowardice, a specially commissioned production commemorating the centenary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. He co-wrote Titanic Tales with cellist Stephanie Winters.[citation needed]


Authored books[edit]

  • Duncan McCargo, Mapping National Anxieties: Thailand's Southern Conflict, Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2012.
  • Duncan McCargo, Tearing Apart the Land: Islam and Legitimacy in Southern Thailand, Ithaca NY and London: Cornell University Press, 2008 (Southeast Asian edition by NUS Press, Singapore, 2009).
  • Duncan McCargo, Contemporary Japan, (second edition) 244pp, Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004 (first edition 2000; Malaysian translation published 2009).
  • Duncan McCargo, Media and Politics in Pacific Asia, 185 pp, London and New York: Routledge, 2003.
  • Duncan McCargo, Politics and the Press in Thailand: media machinations, 205 pp., London and New York: Routledge, 2000 (regional paperback edition, 300pp, Bangkok: Garuda Press 2002).
  • Duncan McCargo, Chamlong Srimuang and the New Thai Politics, 334 pp., London and New York: Hurst and St. Martin’s Press, 1997.

Co-authored books[edit]

  • Duncan McCargo and Ukrist Pathmanand, 277 pp, The Thaksinization of Thailand, Copenhagen: Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, 2005 (also published in Burmese translation).

Edited books[edit]

  • Duncan McCargo, Rethinking Thailand’s Southern Violence, 225pp, Singapore: NUS Press, 2007.
  • Duncan McCargo, Rethinking Vietnam, 240pp, London and New York: Routledge, 2004.
  • Duncan McCargo, Reforming Thai Politics, 291pp, Copenhagen: Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, 2002.

Edited journal issues[edit]

Selected journal articles[edit]

  • Duncan McCargo, "Thailand’s Twin Fires", Survival, 52, 4, pp. 5–12, 2010.
  • Duncan McCargo, "Autonomy for Southern Thailand: Thinking the Unthinkable?" Pacific Affairs, 18, 2, June 2010, 261–281.
  • Duncan McCargo and Lee, Hyon-Suk, "Japan’s Political Tsunami: What’s Media Got to Do with It?" The International Journal of Press/Politics, April 2010, 15: 236–245
  • Duncan McCargo, "Mapping national anxieties: Thailand’s Southern conflict", RUSI Journal, 154, 3, July 2009, pp. 54–61.
  • Duncan McCargo, "Thai politics as reality TV", Journal of Asian Studies, 68, 1, February 2009, pp. 7–19.
  • Duncan McCargo, "Thai Buddhism, Thai Buddhists and the southern conflict", Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 40, 1, February 2009, pp. 1–10.
  • Duncan McCargo, "The politics of Buddhist identity in Thailand’s deep south: the demise of civic religion?’ Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 40, 1, February 2009, pp. 11–32.
  • Duncan McCargo, "Thaksin and the resurgence of violence in the Thai South: network monarchy strikes back?" Critical Asian Studies, 38, 1, pp. 39–71, 2006.
  • Duncan McCargo, "Network monarchy and legitimacy crises in Thailand", The Pacific Review, 18, 4, pp. 499–519, 2005.
  • Duncan McCargo, "Cambodia: getting away with authoritarianism", Journal of Democracy, 16, 4, pp. 98–112, 2005.
  • Duncan McCargo, "Buddhism, democracy and identity in Thailand", Democratization, 11, 4, pp. 155–70, 2004.
  • Duncan McCargo, "Democracy under stress in Thaksin’s Thailand", Journal of Democracy, 13, 4, pp. 112–26, 2002.
  • Duncan McCargo, "Security, development and political participation in Thailand: alternative currencies of legitimacy", Contemporary Southeast Asia, 24, 1, pp. 50–67, 2002.
  • Duncan McCargo, "Populism and reformism in contemporary Thailand", South East Asia Research, 9, 1, pp. 89–107, 2001.
  • Sombat Chantornvong and Duncan McCargo, "Political economy of tobacco control in Thailand", Tobacco Control, 10, pp. 48–54, 2001.
  • Duncan McCargo, "Killing the messenger: The 1994 press bannings and the demise of Indonesia’s New Order", Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, 4, 1, pp. 29–47, 1999.
  • Duncan McCargo, "Alternative meanings of political reform in contemporary Thailand", The Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies, 13, pp. 5–30, 1998.
  • William A. Callahan and Duncan McCargo, "Vote-buying in Thailand’s Northeast: the July 1995 general election", Asian Survey, 36, 4, pp. 376–93, 1996.
  • Duncan McCargo, "The political role of the Japanese media", The Pacific Review, 9, 2, pp. 251–64, 1996.

Review articles[edit]

  • Duncan McCargo, "A hollow crown", New Left Review, Jan–Feb 2007, pp. 135–44 (also published in Spanish translation).


  1. ^ McCargo, Duncan (2006-09-27). "Toxic Thaksin". Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 3 August 2015. 
  2. ^ Farrelly, Nicholas (2008-08-07). "Interview with Professor Duncan McCargo". New Mandala. Retrieved 3 August 2015. 
  3. ^ Marshall, Andrew (2009-04-27). "Books: Anatomy of a Forgotten Conflict". Time. Retrieved 2010-09-27. 
  4. ^ McCargo, Duncan (2010-05-19). "Bangkok's savage conflict may be a mere dress rehearsal". The Telegraph. Retrieved 3 August 2015. 
  5. ^ ‘Enemies of the people’, The Economist, 30 July 2010 http://www.economist.com/node/16703377?story_id=16703377
  6. ^ McCargo, Duncan (2010-05-19). "Thai protests: military crackdown only widens divide". The Guardian. 
  7. ^ McCargo, Duncan. "Thailand protests may prove royal words are no longer enough". The Guardian (2010-05-18). Retrieved 3 August 2015. 
  8. ^ McCargo, Duncan (2008-09-03). "Thaksin's long shadow". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 August 2015. 
  9. ^ McCargo, Duncan (2010-05-15). "Thailand is deeply fractured and anarchy has come closer". The Independent. Retrieved 3 August 2015. 
  10. ^ http://www.rhul.ac.uk/alumni/ouralumni/notablealumni.aspx[dead link]
  11. ^ "McCargo Address". Mahasarakam University. Retrieved 3 August 2015. [dead link]

External links[edit]