Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Politics and International Studies

Professor Duncan McCargo

Professor of Political Science

I may be 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.

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.’

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, worth $20,000. Latterly I have been active in policy circles, promoting the argument that Thailand’s southern conflict is a political problem that will ultimately require a political solution somewhere along the autonomy spectrum.

I appear regularly on BBC radio and television, have written commentaries for publications including the Daily Telegraph, Economist, Foreign Affairs, Guardian, Independent, New York Times, Time 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.

I currently hold a shared appointment with the Department of Political Science at Columbia University, teaching alternate semesters in Leeds and New York. During the 2015–16 academic year I was a Visitor in the School of Social Science, at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

In 2010, I was awarded an honorary doctorate by Mahasarakham University in Thailand. The following year I was made a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. I am also the elected President (2013–17) of the European Association for Southeast Asian Studies (EuroSEAS) – the world’s largest academic organisation for the study of the region.

Recent public talks have included: the Fourth Annual Thailand-Harvard Lecture, papers at Sydney and ANU, and presentations at the Houses of Parliament and at CSIS in Washington DC (2014); papers at Columbia, Harvard, Michigan and the SSRC (2015); and a keynote in Prague, a distinguished lecture at the University of the Philippines, two conferences at Oxford, plus presentations at Brookings, CUNY Graduate Center, IRSEM/Paris, Princeton, Warwick, Wisconsin and Yale (2016).

Research Interests

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. To date, my best-selling book is the co-authored Thaksinization of Thailand (2005). 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 have secured a series of British Academy and ESRC awards, recently held a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship (2011–14) to work on politics and justice in Thailand, and currently have a grant from the United States Institute of Peace to examine peace messaging in Thai elections.


I come from a family of teachers: I have taught for two years in a Japanese high school, worked as a TESOL teacher in Bangkok, and lectured at university level in Cambodia, China, Japan and the United States. I hold a Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education from the University of Leeds.

In 2016 I taught an MA module on Conflict and Insurgency in Southeast Asia, both at Leeds and at our partner institution, Shanghai’s East China University of Politics and Law.

PhD Supervision

Twenty-three of my PhD students have graduated since 1997. I am currently supervising six students working on Thailand, and am always interested in looking at Southeast Asia-related applications from prospective doctoral students.

I have supervised on the following topics.

  • Civil society, NGOs and protest movements
  • Elections and political parties
  • Politics of education
  • Politics of corruption
  • Politics and religion
  • Public intellectuals
  • Sub-national conflicts and insurgency
  • The political role of the military
  • Village-level politics

Key Publications



See full list of publications

Media Contact Areas

  • Politics of Thailand
  • Southeast Asian politics

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