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K-State Today

September 30, 2022

Anthropology talk on Thai personhood, spirit dolls and airline cultures

Submitted by Jess Falcone

The sociology, anthropology and social work and history departments' will host a visiting lecturer from 3:30-5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7, in 350 Waters Hall. 

Jane M. Ferguson, from the School of Culture, History and Language, Australian National University, College of Asia and the Pacific, will present "Luk Thep: Challenging the Boundaries of the Human Passenger." The talk is open to all. 

In 2015, a shop owner-cum-fortune teller, "Mama Ning" made a post on social media about the tremendous financial success facilitated by adopting and nurturing a luk thep "angel child" doll. Some Thai celebrities adopted dolls, thus sparking a new spirit cult trend with thousands of Thais, mostly women, joining the phenomenon. The practice, with continuity with the animistic belief in kuman thong "Golden Boy," or child ghosts, asserts that a child's spirit, or winyann, is present inside the plastic doll. People took their dolls to cafes and restaurants, indulging them with drinks and snacks and posting photos on social media. Thai Smile Airlines issued a memo requiring that cabin crew serve luk thep dolls provided their owner purchased a separate seat for them.

The presentation will explore the luk thep as a problem for aviation logistics, challenging the boundaries of the human, but leading to a renewed examination of the composition of the passenger, and the varying logistical, legal and cultural boundaries of human and non-human.