Alexandra Denes

Dr. Alexandra Denes is a Senior Research Associate at the Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre (SAC) in Bangkok, Thailand where she is the Director of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and Museums Field School, the Culture and Rights in Thailand Research Program, and the Visual Anthropology Program. A cultural anthropologist specializing in Southeast Asia, she has spent over fifteen years living, working and researching in the region.

In 2002, Alexandra received a Fulbright scholarship to conduct field research on the revival of Khmer heritage and Khmer ethnic identity in Surin, Thailand. The research culminated in her doctoral dissertation, entitled “Recovering Khmer Ethnic Identity from the Thai National Past: An Ethnography of the Localism Movement in Thailand” (Cornell 2006).

Upon joining the SAC in 2008, Alexandra spearheaded the Intangible Cultural Heritage and Museums Field School program. Aimed at museum and heritage practitioners in the Asia-Pacific region, the ICH and Museums Field School brings together leading scholars in anthropology, museology and heritage studies to offer a critical examination of the UNESCO 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Focusing on the role that museums and cultural institutions can play in the effort to safeguarding ICH, the Field School provides anthropological tools and frameworks for engaging with communities to research, document and revitalize their intangible culture.

Questions about the rights of culture bearers to access and manage their cultural resources gave rise to the SAC Culture and Rights in Thailand (CRT) project. Launched in 2009, the CRT research project is comprised of nine sub-projects which seek to uncover how “the right to culture” is expressed and negotiated within the Thai context. As part of this project, Alexandra conducted research on rights-based approaches to cultural heritage management at the Phnom Rung Historical Park. Her research examined issues of community rights and access to heritage at two Angkorian-era heritage sites in Thailand’s Buriram province—Muang Tam and Phnom Rung. The research focused on how the classification and management of the sites as national heritage led to the marginalization of local beliefs and practices associated with the sites, and how this has further been complicated by the growth of “magico-politics” and tourism since the 1990s. Through stakeholder engagement and participatory cultural mapping with local communities and the relevant government offices in Phnom Rung Historical Park in 2012, this research project raised awareness about the intangible meanings and living practices associated with the sites, and subsequently fostered dialog about how these intangible values can be incorporated into management and interpretation of the monuments.

Alexandra's theoretical interests center on critical heritage studies, ethnicity and nationalism, and the politics of ritual and performance.