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. I have recently 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 am also an Associate Fellow at Chatham House in London.

My work takes me to New York City, where I hold a visiting affiliation at Columbia’s University’s Weatherhead Institute, and serve as an Associate Fellow of the Asia Society. From 2014–15 I will hold a shared appointment with the Department of Political Science at Columbia University, teaching alternate semesters in Leeds and New York.

In 2010, I was awarded an honorary doctorate by Mahasarakham University in Thailand. The following year I was elected to the Academy of Social Sciences. I am also the elected President (2013–15) of the European Association for Southeast Asian Studies (EuroSEAS) – the world’s largest academic organisation for the study of the region.

Recent public talks include the Fourth Annual Thailand-Harvard Lecture, papers at Sydney, ANU, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and presentations at the Houses of Parliament and at CSIS in Washington DC (2014); and papers at Columbia, Harvard, Michigan and the Social Science Research Council (2015).

Research Interests

My work on the politics of contemporary Thailand has covered issues such as Buddhism, political reform, electoral politics, the career of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, 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. Recently I co-authored a comparative article on Thailand and Turkey, and I am now developing a collaborative research project building on this comparison with my Cambridge colleague Ayse Zarakol.

I currently hold a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship (2011–14) to work on politics and justice in Thailand.


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 both Japan and Cambodia. I hold a Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education from the University of Leeds.

I teach 'Politics in Japan' (on which I have published three editions of a popular textbook), as well as 'Politics and International Relations of Pacific Asia', and the MA module 'Political Change in Southeast Asia'.

PhD Supervision

Twenty-two of my PhD students have graduated since 1997. I am currently supervising several students working on Thailand and neighbouring countries, and am always interested in looking at applications from prospective doctoral students.

I have supervised on the following topics.

  • Civil society
  • Elections and political parties
  • Environmental politics
  • NGOs and protest movements
  • Politics of education
  • Politics of corruption
  • Public intellectuals
  • Sub-national conflicts and insurgency
  • Village-level politics

Key Publications



See full list of publications

Media Contact Areas

  • Politics of Thailand
  • Southeast Asian politics

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