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Sovereign NecropolisThe Politics of Death in Semi-Colonial Siam$
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Trais Pearson

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781501740152

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501740152.001.0001

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Accidental Metaphysics

Accidental Metaphysics

(p.87) Chapter 4 Accidental Metaphysics
Sovereign Necropolis

Trais Pearson

Cornell University Press

This chapter analyzes the adoption and adaptation of tacit assumptions about human identity, agency, and responsibility that underlie legal liberalism—in other words, the metaphysics of civil law. Crucial to any effort to understand the boundaries of human agency and responsibility lies the notion of the accident. Although the accident masquerades as timeless and commonsensical, it is in fact a historical and cultural artifact: ubatihet, the Thai term, is a neologism dating to the late nineteenth century. Charting its introduction through etymological and historical linguistic evidence—as well as in practice as part of municipal governance—the chapter argues that the accident functioned as one axis of a metaphysical grid for representing social life and as a means of further codifying the identity of the Siamese legal subject. In both respects, the accident must be understood as part of a conservative grammar of rule: predicated on a secular-naturalistic vision of social life, it defined the legal subject in negative terms. Attending to the accident as a historical site of cultural production, the chapter destabilizes the naturalistic posture of legal reasoning and undermines celebratory narratives of law as a humanizing force.

Keywords:   of civil law, accidents, ubatihet, social life, Siamese legal subject, legal liberalism, legal liberalism, municipal governance

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