You are here

Duncan McCargo, Director of the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies; and Professor of Political Science, University of Copenhagen

I first visited NIAS in 1997 and have made regular academic visits to the Nordic region ever since. I assumed the NIAS Directorship in the summer of 2019, after several years during which I held a shared professorial appointment at the School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds and the Department of Political Science at Columbia University - teaching alternate semesters in Yorkshire and New York. At Leeds, I twice chaired one of Britain’s largest political science departments and supervised 27 doctoral students to successful completion. At Columbia, I co-founded the New York Southeast Asia Network, an innovative academic collaboration funded by the Luce Foundation.

Fascinated by Asia since my undergraduate days, I've spent several years in Thailand, and have also lived in Singapore, taught in Belfast, Cambodia and Japan, and published on Indonesia and Vietnam. As I hate repeating myself, I change research topics regularly. I am committed to doing serious fieldwork. Time magazine wrote of my work ‘No armchairs for this author… McCargo is the real McCoy.’

I’ve published three books with NIAS Press, including the best-selling Thaksinization of Thailand (with Ukrist Pathmanand, 2005). My ESRC-funded ninth book, Tearing Apart the Land: Islam and Legitimacy in Southern Thailand (Cornell University Press 2008) won the Asia Society's inaugural Bernard Schwartz Book Prize for 2009. My monograph Fighting for Virtue: Justice and Politics in Thailand is forthcoming from Cornell University Press.

I appear regularly on BBC radio and television, have written commentaries for publications including the Daily TelegraphEconomistForeign AffairsGuardian, Independent, New York TimesTime and Financial Times and am frequently cited in print and online media. I often brief senior UN and government officials, and have twice testified (in Thai) before parliamentary committees in Bangkok.

In 2010, I was awarded an honorary doctorate in Thai Studies by Mahasarakham University. The following year I was made a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. From 2013 to 2017, I was the elected President of the European Association for Southeast Asian Studies (EuroSEAS). Among my past fellowships and residencies are: Asia Research Institute (NUS); Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center; Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship; and Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton.

Recent appearances have included: a keynote address in Kyushu, conference presentations in Toronto and New York, a series of lectures in Indonesia and Thailand, two research seminars in Shanghai, and a Columbia alumni event in Tokyo.

I am probably best known for my agenda-setting contributions to current debates on the politics of Thailand, but my work is centrally concerned with the nature of power. How do entrenched elites seek to retain power in the face of challenges from new political forces? How do challengers to state power try to undermine the legitimacy of existing regimes? These interests have led me to study questions relating to the uses of media, sub-national conflicts, and the politics of justice, among other issues.

My work on the politics of contemporary Thailand has covered issues such as Buddhism, political reform, electoral politics, the media, the role of the military and the Southern conflict. My original arguments about Thailand’s ‘network monarchy’ have helped reshape both academic and popular understandings of royal power. I have an interest in several other Southeast Asian countries, and continue to write on Cambodia.

My broader intellectual agenda includes problematizing the role of the media, which I see as a political actor in its own right; and studying the emergence of what I term ‘urbanized villagers’ – people who straddle the troublesome divide between urban and rural. I am currently working on understanding the politics behind military coups; I am also interested in critiques of transitional justice and legalism, and in the recent revival of notions of treason.

I currently hold a grant from the United States Institute of Peace to examine peace messaging in the 2019 Thai elections.