The Enigma of Authority: Conflict and Continuity in Thai Politics
Thu 14:00-15:30 Room 0.31
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Cosmopolitan Pastoral Aesthetic: Commerce and the Politics of Rural Space in Bangkok
Trude Renwick The University of Hong Kong
Gaysorn Village is not an idyllic rural village in a remote corner of Thailand (Potter 1977); it is a mall. Located in Bangkok’s busy Ratchaprasong Shopping District, which is undergoing its own rebranding campaign “Eat, Pray, Shop,” the shopping complex was renovated and rebranded by Gaysorn Property Co in 2017. Gaysorn Village, with its earthy aesthetic and celebration of “Thai Taste,” is a move away from the district’s 1980s and 1990s theming around western luxury brands, with neo-roman architecture to match this vision. While the recent incorporation of terms like ‘community’ and ‘village’ into malls by developers is connected to global trends promoting creative industries and cities, it is also spurred by contemporary nationalist policies promoting Buddhist morals like Thailand 4.0 and sufficiency economics under the military government in Thailand. Like other Bangkok malls, Gaysorn’s architecture, advertisement campaigns and temporary events thus promote a cosmopolitan pastoral aesthetic that reflects a larger history of community and nation-making through Buddhist morals and rural space (Elinoff 2021; Herzfeld 2016; Shelby 2017). Based on over two years of ethnographic fieldwork, this paper examines how imaginaries of ‘the village’ and ‘community’ are presented and inscribed into these key spaces of contemporary urban life in Bangkok. How has the relationship between cosmopolitan and rural identity transformed over time, and been inscribed into Bangkok’s malls by developers? What does this shift in branding begin to reveal about the moral politics of Bangkok’s commercial landscape and the actors shaping it (Funahashi 2016; Johnson 2014)?
Memories in Concrete and Capital: Ruins of Progress in Thailand
Andrew Johnson UC Berkeley
What constitutes a monument? We are used to seeing monuments in a particular genre: an edifice of state power of stone, metal or concrete, which renders in a more or less permanent fashion a sentiment towards the past. But Bangkok’s monuments can be read in different ways: meanings and significance shift: a monument built by a fascist architect becomes a rallying ground for pro-democracy movements; a plaque to a citizen government is replaced by one valorizing the monarchy; others simply disappear. Further, as urban “beautification” projects and royally-owned mega-malls project a future-oriented dream of authoritarian capitalism upon the landscape, new imaginaries and contestations come to the fore. This paper takes up critical work on memory and commemoration to look at the changing landscape of Bangkok, from Dusit Park’s renovation to Ratchaprasong’s landscape of trauma and consumption, to canal-side efforts at urban revitalization (and dispossession). What does it mean to remember in concrete?
The Act of Writing: Constituting and Re-Constituting the Constitution in Thailand
Daena Funahashi UC Berkeley
What grounds political legitimacy in a regime that is constantly in flux? As both new pushes for authoritarian politics as well as new liberatory protest movements erupt across Southeast Asia, we must re-examine the grounds upon which we establish political legitimacy. In Thailand – a place that has experienced over nearly two dozen coups d’état over the last century and as many constitutions, traditional configurations of power underneath the military and monarchy are rapidly shifting. As a new, unpopular king takes over, and as China-centered arguments for centralized, authoritarian political systems gain popularity across the region, Thai civil society finds itself grappling with the legacy of its constitutions – and their erasure.
History is constantly being made and remade: witness the serial installation and removal of plaques in Bangkok commemorating opposing historical narratives: the 1932 People’s Party, the Chakri dynasty, and the 2020 democratic movement. But monuments and other spaces of commemoration are not simply changing scripts of a landscape meant to be read, but proposals on how to read. Such proposals form channels for different claims, claims to alternative uses already inherent in the paradoxes and contradictions of the everyday.
These proposals draw sustenance from what superficially appear to be mutually opposed values (e.g., egalitarianism and hierarchy, nationalism and cosmopolitanism, conspicuous consumption and religious piety). In this panel, we explore the way in which such moments are enabled by the internal vortex of such paradoxes, and their contemporaneous but mutually-opposed readings of history. Here, we are interested in ruptures and mergings, dissonances and polyphonies, collaborations and competitions. How do different or opposing conceptions of politics, polity, or “past-ness” manifest themselves, compete with each other, or emerge into the quotidian? To what extent do such dynamics help to explain the reputation of Southeast Asian polities for compromise even in the face of the threat of violence, and to what extent are such resolutions based in the everyday experience of life in these countries?