Eli Elinoff



Research areas

I am a political and environmental anthropologist with research projects centered in Thailand and Southeast Asia. I have research interests in political anthropology including questions about citizenship, rights, democracy, and politics more generally. I am also interested in environmental anthropology and questions related to development, materiality, climate change, political ecologies, disaster, and the Anthropocene. Finally, my work is engaged with questions about space, urbanization, aesthetics, infrastructures, architecture, and the built environment.

My book manuscript, Architects of Citizenship: Making Politics in a Northeastern Thai City, is about how the urban poor in the city of Khon Kaen embraced politics as a means of transforming self, city, and nation. It follows conflicts between state architects, NGO activists, local and national slum rights networks, and residents of railway squatter communities as they attempted to secure their land and improve their communities in the fast-growing provincial city of Khon Kaen. These conflicts occurred during the implementation of the Thai state’s Baan Mankong (Secure House) policy. Launched after the 1997 Asian financial crash, Baan Mankong gained worldwide attention for its novel uses of community-based architects in facilitating participatory housing and infrastructure upgrades with the urban poor. By analyzing the policy’s workshops, urban plans, home designs, and community organizing processes, I show how state and non-state agents substitute sustainability and harmony for land rights and collective struggle. Yet, despite these managerial interventions, residents have taken up the practice of disagreement in an effort to reconfigure both urban space and the political itself in their own image.

My second ethnographic project investigates political ecologies of concrete in Bangkok. This research engages with landscape architects, city officials, materials scientists, activists, and citizens displaced by disaster to trace the ways in which concrete makes and remakes both local and global environments. The question of urban materiality is particularly contentious in the aftermath of the 2011 floods that devastated large parts of the Thai capital. Environmentalists and local governments now wage bitter struggles over its spread in the form of new infrastructures, housing and industrial estates, and flood mitigation projects. Simultaneously, architects and designers have begun rethinking the urban landscape, proposing radical new urban spaces premised on soft and aquatic infrastructures. By situating this study of Thailand’s emerging urban environments within these post-disaster politics, this research argues that ethnographic attention to the surface of the city reveals important insights about the way global environmental shifts are bound up in everyday practices of city making.

I am interested in supervising Masters and PhD students interested in undertaking research related to environmental or political anthropology.

Recent publications


In Preparation. Architects of Citizenship: Making Politics in a Northeastern Thai City.

Under Review. The Quotidian Anthropocene: Reconfiguring Environments in Urbanizing Asia (with T. Vaughan, eds.) Solicited for publication by University of Pennsylvania Press


Elinoff, E., & Vaughan, T. (2019). Quotidian. In C. Howe, & A. Pandian (Eds.), Anthropocene Unseen: A Lexicon. Goleta, CA: Punctum Books

Elinoff, E. (2018). No Future Here: Urbanization and Hope in Thailand. In T. Bunnell, & D. P. S. Goh (Eds.), Urban Asias: Essays on Futurity, Past and Present (pp. 121-134). Berlin: Jovis.

Elinoff, E. (2017). Ecologies of Possibility: Dwelling, Politics, and Government along Khon Kaen’s Railway Tracks. In A. Rademacher, & S. Sivaramakrishnan (Eds.), Places of Nature in Ecologies of Urbanism. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press


Elinoff, E. (2019). Subjects of politics: Between democracy and dictatorship in Thailand. Anthropological Theory, 19(1), 143-169. doi:10.1177/1463499618782365

Postero, N., & Elinoff, E. (2019). Introduction: A return to politics. Anthropological Theory, 19(1), 3-28. doi:10.1177/1463499618814933

Marks, D., & Elinoff, E. (2019). Splintering disaster: relocating harm and remaking nature after the 2011 floods in Bangkok. International Development Planning Review. doi:10.3828/idpr.2019.7

Elinoff, E., & Gillen, J. (2019). A fun problem? The history and limits of the governance of fun in Singapore. ACME: International Journal of Critical Geographies, 18(3), 642-661.

Elinoff, E. (2018). Towards an Ethnography Commons. Commoning Ethnography, 1(1), 1-10. doi:10.26686/ce.v1i1.4126

Elinoff, E., Sur, M., & Yeoh, B. S. A. (2017). Constructing Asia. City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action, 21(5), 580-586. doi:10.1080/13604813.2017.1374777

Elinoff, E. (2017). Concrete and corruption: Materialising power and politics in the Thai capital. City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action, 21(5), 587-596. doi:10.1080/13604813.2017.1374778

Elinoff, E. (2016). A house is more than a house: aesthetic politics in a Northeastern Thai railway settlement. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 22(3), 610-632. doi:10.1111/1467-9655.12449

Elinoff, E. (2016). Rights to culture: Heritage, language, and community in Thailand. JOURNAL OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN STUDIES, 47(1), 158-159. doi:10.1017/S0022463415000570

Elinoff, E. (2014). Unmaking civil society: Activist schisms and autonomous politics in Thailand. Contemporary Southeast Asia, 36(3), 356-385. doi:10.1355/cs36-3b

Elinoff, E. (2014). Sufficient citizens: Moderation and the politics of sustainable development in Thailand. Political and Legal Anthropology Review, 37(1), 89-108. doi:10.1111/plar.12052

Elinoff, E. (2014). Review Essay: Retheorizing the City Past the Edge of the Twenty-First Century. Journal of Urban History, 40(1), 194-200. doi:10.1177/0096144213491226

Elinoff, E. (2012). Smouldering aspirations: Burning buildings and the politics of belonging in contemporary Isan. South East Asia Research, 20(3), 381-397. doi:10.5367/sear.2012.0111 Special Focus “Provincializing Bangkok.” E. Elinoff and C. Sopranzetti Guest Editors

Elinoff, E., & Sopranzetti, C. (2012). Introduction: Special Focus Provincializing Bangkok: Isan from ‘Not yet’ to ‘Now’. South East Asia Research, 20(3). E. Elinoff and C. Sopranzetti Guest Editors

Online publications

2019. Cement. An Anthropogenic Table of Elements. Society for Cultural Anthropology

2018 Big Cats, Fallen Trees, and Everyday Impunity, or Do Environmental Politics Still Matter in Thailand? Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia

2016 “Learning With Namie” for Teach 311.org

2014 “Introduction: Thailand’s Wheel of Crisis” (Co-authored with F. Aulino, C. Sopranzetti, and B. Tausig ) Cultural Anthropology Online—Hot Spots.

2014 “Like Everyone ElseCultural Anthropology Online—Hot Spots

2014 Review of Isan Writers, Thai Literature: Writing and Regionalism in Modern Thailand by Martin Platt for New Mandalapdf71KB

Selected conference papers & guest presentations

October 2019. Aggregate Ecologies: Remapping Political Ecologies of Concrete in Southeast Asia. Political Ecology in Asia: Plural Knowledge and Contested Development in a More-Than-Human World. Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand.

January 2019. The Banal in the Spectacular: For a Quotidian Anthropocene in Thailand (and elsewhere).. Sawyer Seminar: Claiming the City: Urban Citizenship, Hybrid Cultures, and Governance in the Modern Era. via Skype to University of California, San Diego.

August 2018. (with V. Lamb). What does extraction mean for the urban form?. 4S Sydney: TRANSnational STS: Society for Social Studies of Science Annual Conference. Sydney, Australia

February 2018. Surface Tensions: Material Power and its Corrosions in Thailand. Anthropology of Concrete. Aarhus University, Denmark

January 2018. Subjects of Politics: Between Democracy and Dictatorship in Thailand. Thai Lecture Series. Department of Anthropology, Harvard Asia Center, Harvard University

November 2017. All that is Urban Melts into Air: A Political Ecology of Concrete for the Anthropocene. Knowledge/Culture/Ecologies International Conference 2017. Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago, Chile

February 2017. From Blood, Cast in Concrete: Materialising Political Theology in Thailand. Political Theologies and Development in Asia. National University of Singapore.

May 2016. Concrete and Corruption: On the Material Forms of Politics in Thailand. Constructing Asia: Materiality, Labour, and Capital in the Making of an Urbanizing Landscape. Asia Research Institute. National University of Singapore.

April 2016. Resilient Matters: Materials and Methods for Understanding the Resilient City. Urban Climate Resilience in Southeast Asia Annual Meeting & Workshop: Engaging Cities in Climate Resilience. Hanoi, Vietnam.

April 2016. When All That is Urban Melts into Air: Concrete and Climate Change after the Paris Agreement. Does Paris Make a Difference? Anthropogenic Climates and Global Order. Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore

November 2015. Between Infrastructure and Eviction: Feeling Futures of Political Erasure in a Thai City. In American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting 2015. Denver, CO.

2015. Bureaucratic Activists, Grassroots Experts: Rethinking Participatory Disaster Governance. Engaging Expert Knowledge in Disaster Governance 1. University of Tokyo.

2015. Dwelling, Politics, and Government in Khon Kaen’s Spaces of Possibility. Ecologies of Urbanism in Asia: Cities, Towns, and Places of Nature. Yale University.

2015. Subjects of Politics: From Disagreement to Dictatorship in Thailand. Politics in a Time of Post Politics: Rethinking Anthropology’s Conception of the Political for the 21st Century. University of California, San Diego.

2015. A New Architecture for an Urban Century? Lunch Seminar, Shepley Bulfinch. Shepley Bulfinch, Boston, MA

Teaching in 2020

Teaching in 2020