Songphan Choemprayong | Center for Southeast Asian Studies Kyoto University


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Interview with Songphan Choemprayong »

Chulalongkorn University

What are your favorite things?

Systems and technologies
Rather than considering myself a pure technologist, I identify more as a “systems enthusiast.” This means that I am keenly interested in understanding how different components of a system, like a library, can work together more efficiently through the use of technology. My approach involves exploring and integrating new technologies not just for their own sake, but as opportunities to enhance the way we work and live. It is about more than just the technology itself; it is about how these technological tools fit into and improve the larger system they are a part of.

Cultural exposure
I am an avid explorer of cultural sites and institutions, such as libraries, museums, galleries, and bookstores. This passion for immersing myself in diverse cultural experiences broadens my perspective. It nurtures my critical and creative thinking, inspiring me to discover unique ways to express and interpret the world around me.

Mindfulness learner
Mindfulness, for me, is an ongoing journey rather than a constant state. It is about being aware and present in every aspect of life. This practice of mindfulness, which I am continuously learning and trying to embrace, has been a valuable tool for navigating through various challenges. It aids in maintaining a balanced perspective during both the highs and lows of life, allowing me to remain centered and resilient regardless of the circumstances.


Knowledge Amidst Disparity


Please tell us about your research.

My current project at CSEAS, in collaboration with my colleague Hollie White, began before the COVID pandemic and focuses on the challenges and opportunities of global bibliographic collaboration, particularly for Thai libraries. This research is driven by a crucial observation: while libraries generally benefit from resource sharing and collaborative networks, Thai libraries, along with those in other less-visible cultures, often face barriers. These barriers include language differences, distinct cultural perspectives on knowledge production, and limited resources, preventing them from fully participating in global bibliographic networks.

This situation led us to ask several critical questions. If Thai libraries are constrained in joining collaborative networks, who is contributing to the shared bibliographic network with Thai materials? How do libraries outside of Thailand, holding Thai materials, influence the access to this information? And importantly, how does the disparity in the distribution and availability of Thai materials impact Thai studies scholars in their knowledge production?

Our research is unique because it extends beyond the Thai context. We are particularly interested in Japan, a country with a non-Anglo/European bibliographic culture that is more represented on the global stage. By examining how Thai materials are collected and described in Japan, we aim to understand the broader complexities surrounding access and the construction of knowledge about less-dominant cultures like Thailand. This project is not just about cataloging practices; it is a deeper exploration of cultural representation and knowledge accessibility in an increasingly interconnected world.

Through this research, we hope to uncover insights that could pave the way for more inclusive and representative global bibliographic networks. It strives to ensure that the rich tapestry of Thai culture and knowledge is accessible and accurately represented on the global stage, contributing to a more diverse and comprehensive understanding of world cultures.


Can you share with us an episode about any influential people, things, and places you have encountered whilst doing your research.

In the course of my research, numerous episodes, involving a range of emotions, have left a profound impact on me. Something that consistently astonishes me is discovering rare Thai materials housed in collections outside of Thailand. Often, these materials are unique – some cannot even be found within Thailand itself. It is especially intriguing when I come across items that are either banned or censored in Thailand, or those considered trivial within the country.

During my research travels, I have had the privilege of meeting many non-Thai scholars, librarians, and institutions who harbor a deep passion for Thai collections. Their enthusiasm is palpable and genuinely inspiring. However, this is contrasted sharply with my experiences in Thailand. There, I have met equally passionate professionals who, despite their best efforts, face insurmountable challenges in making valuable Thai materials accessible to a broader audience. The limitations they encounter – whether resource constraints, bureaucratic hurdles, or cultural barriers – often stymie the success of their endeavors.

Another profound experience has been meeting Thai individuals living abroad, many of whom lack formal education or a professional background in library science yet dedicate themselves tirelessly to cataloging and describing Thai collections. Their commitment is remarkable and it often leaves me pondering – do they fully comprehend the significance of their work? Their contributions are invaluable, yet I wonder if they truly recognize the impact they have in preserving and promoting Thai culture and heritage on a global stage.

These encounters – with rare materials, passionate professionals, and dedicated individuals – not only enrich my research, but also provide a nuanced understanding of the complexities involved in cultural preservation and knowledge dissemination, both within and outside Thailand.


How do you overcome the difficulties in putting together the results of your research into a research paper or book?

Overcoming the challenges of translating research into a research paper or book is a multifaceted process for me. I have discovered that one of the most effective strategies is to actively discuss and share my research with a variety of people. This dialogue not only solidifies my understanding, but also helps me to envision my prospective readers and their expectations, guiding the focus and structure of my writing.

Time management, however, emerges as the most daunting aspect of research. There are myriad approaches to managing time, but I have found that setting realistic deadlines tied to achievable goals is crucial. This practice creates a sense of urgency and direction, helping me to stay on track.

Another key tactic is breaking down the larger project into smaller, manageable segments. This approach allows me to celebrate minor victories along the way, each small success propelling me forward to the next task. Paying attention to details such as formatting during the writing process is also part of this strategy. These seemingly minor tasks contribute to a growing sense of completion, reinforcing my belief in the feasibility of the project.

Collaboration plays a vital role in my research endeavors as well. Working in a team has been instrumental in bringing many of my projects to fruition. Research, by its very nature, often requires a collective effort, and I attribute every success to the collaborative spirit and contribution of each team member. This sense of camaraderie and shared purpose not only aids in overcoming the practical challenges of research, but also enriches the entire process, making the journey towards completing a research paper or book both feasible and fulfilling.


Do you have any essential reads (books) that you can recommend to younger people?

One key reading that has profoundly influenced my academic and personal journey is Robert K. Merton’s Insiders and Outsiders: A Chapter in the Sociology of Knowledge, published in the American Journal of Sociology in 1972. This article delves into the creation and functioning of disparate worldviews, offering valuable insights not only for sociology, but also for other disciplines like psychology, political science, economics, and philosophy, as well as interdisciplinary fields such as area studies and science and technology studies.

Merton’s exploration of the insiders/outsiders dynamic was a cornerstone in my doctoral dissertation, where I used his framework to analyze information exchange during the early days of the coup d’état in Thailand in 2006. This concept continues to be a critical element in my current research on Thai materials within and outside Thailand, particularly in addressing the power inequalities in bibliographic culture.

Beyond its academic relevance, Merton’s work has profoundly impacted how I understand and interact with worldviews different from my own in everyday life. It has reshaped my thinking and approach to living in a world rife with disputes and conflicts. The fluidity of the insider/outsider distinction is something I find applicable in various contexts, even in seemingly small, everyday situations.

While Merton’s classic work can initially be challenging to read — it certainly was for me, requiring several rounds of reading to grasp its core ideas — the effort is rewarding. The insights I gained not only deepened my understanding of my research topics, but also led to a greater self-discovery and a broader perspective on my own place in a complex world. For aspiring researchers, especially those in the social sciences and humanities, Merton’s article offers a timeless, profound perspective on understanding the dynamics of knowledge, power, and cultural representation. It is a must-read for those who seek to deepen their comprehension of the intricate tapestry of human thought and society.

 (January 2024)


Merton, R.K. 1972. Insiders and outsiders: A chapter in the sociology of knowledge. American Journal of Sociology, 78(1), pp.9-47.

Songphan Choemprayong, MLIS, Ph.D. is an associate professor at the Department of Library Science, Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. He is also a member of the Arc of Memory research unit at the Faculty of Arts and the Behavioral Research and Informatics in Social Science Research Unit at Sasin School of Management, Chulalongkorn University. He received his Ph.D. in Information and Library Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a post-doctoral training as a Knowledge Management Leadership and Research Fellow from Vanderbilt University Medical Center. His current research interest focuses on human perspectives on information systems and services in scholarly, social, personal, and medical contexts. Choemprayong is a Visiting Research Scholar of CSEAS from January to April 2024.

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