Lords of Things: The Fashioning of the Siamese Monarchy's Modern Image

University of Hawaii Press
Free sample

Lords of Things offers a fascinating interpretation of modernity in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Siam by focusing on the novel material possessions and social practices adopted by the royal elite to refashion its self and public image in the early stages of globalization. It examines the westernized modes of consumption and self-presentation, the residential and representational architecture, and the public spectacles appropriated by the Bangkok court not as byproducts of institutional reformation initiated by modernizing sovereigns, but as practices and objects constitutive of the very identity of the royalty as a civilized and civilizing class.

Bringing a wealth of new source material into a theoretically informed discussion, Lords of Things will be required reading for historians of Thailand and Southeast Asia scholars generally. It represents a welcome change from previous studies of Siamese modernization that are almost exclusively concerned with the institutional and economic dimensions of the process or with foreign relations, and will appeal greatly to those interested in transnational cultural flows, the culture of colonialism, the invention of tradition, and the relationship between consumption and identity formation in the modern era.

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About the author

Maurizio Peleggi is professor of cultural history at the National University of Singapore.

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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Hawaii Press
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Published on
Dec 31, 2002
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Pages
232
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ISBN
9780824825584
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Asia / General
History / Asia / Southeast Asia
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This content is DRM protected.
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The book brings studies of modern Thai history and culture into dialogue with debates in comparative intellectual history, Asian cultural studies, and postcolonial studies. It takes Thai Studies in new directions through case studies of the cultural hybridity and ambivalences that have emerged from the manifold interactions between Siam/Thailand and the West from 1850 to the present day. Central aims of The Ambiguous Allure of the West are to critique notions of Thai "uniqueness" or "exceptionalism" and locate Thai Studies in a broader, comparative perspective by arguing that modern Siam/Thailand needs to be understood as a semicolonial society. In contrast to conservative nationalist and royalist accounts of Thai history and culture, which resist comparing the country to its once-colonized Asian neighbours, this book's contributors highlight the value of postcolonial analysis in understanding the complexly ambiguous, interstitial, liminal and hybrid character of Thai/Western cultural interrelationships. At the same time, by pointing to the distinctive position of semicolonial societies in the Western-dominated world order, the chapters in this book make significant contributions to developing the critical theoretical perspectives of international cultural studies. The contributors demonstrate how the disciplines of history, anthropology, political science, film and cultural studies all enhance these contestations in intersecting ways, and across different historical moments. Each of the chapters raises manifold themes and questions regarding the nature of intercultural exchange, interrogated through theoretically critical lenses. This book directs its discussions at those studying not only in the fields of Thai and Southeast Asian studies but also in colonial and postcolonial studies, Asian cultural studies, film studies and comparative critical theory.
This unusual and intriguing study of nationhood explores the nineteenth-century confrontation of ideas that transformed the kingdom of Siam into the modern conception of a nation. Fundamental to the author's analysis is the assumption that notions of national identity are discursively constructed and therefore are subject to change. Here, modern Thailand is viewed as its territory and related values and practices, or what the author terms its "geo-body." Thongchai Winichakul's compelling narrative explores the emergence of this new territorial entity by examining the influence of modern mapping techniques on Thai conceptions of nationhood. Before the late nineteenth century the Siamese understanding of the territory of a state precluded the delineation of boundaries in the modern sense. Overlapping or multiple sovereignties were common, whereby a small state might pay tribute to two or more sovereign overlords and still remain sovereign itself. Areas where no country claimed sovereignty also existed, creating a sort of buffer corridor. As Europeans moved into the region in the nineteenth century, bringing with them the new geography and technology of mapping, the confrontation between modern and indigenous conceptions of boundary and sovereignty caused misunderstandings in the conduct of diplomatic relations, confusion in surveying and boundary demarcations, and armed military clashes. The Europeans, and later the Siamese rulers, desired a country defined by the new technology of mapping. Ultimately the mapped geo-body replaced the indigenous territory, and a nation emerged. Siam Mapped challenges much that has been written on Thai history because it demonstrates convincingly that thephysical and political definition of Thailand on which other works are based is anachronistic. The work is an important contribution to the study of Thai history, to the study of Southeast Asia - and indeed much of the world - in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and t
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