Recent Releases on Thailand

 

Working Towards the Monarchy: The Political Spaces of Downtown Bangkok
Serhat Ünaldi

In the twilight years of Thailand’s ailing King Bhumibol, battles between royalists and their red shirt opponents are increasing, and the tectonic shifts that lie beneath Thailand’s decade-old political crisis have become increasingly apparent. Serhat Ünaldi’s Working towards the Monarchy sheds new light on recent developments with its bold analysis of urban space in downtown Bangkok: buildings, the author finds, are abstractions of the complexities that shape Thailand’s transformation.

Most criticism of the political role of the Thai monarchy—its deep involvement in Thailand’s uneven capitalist development, Bhumibol’s endorsement of military coups and his silent acquiescence to political violence—has focused on the role of individuals: the king, the royal family, or privy councilors. Ünaldi departs from such limited intentionalist approaches to show instead just how deeply enmeshed the monarchy is in Thai society as a whole. He demonstrates how and why Thais from all walks of life drew on royal charisma to advance their individual aims, in effect “working towards the monarchy.” Ünaldi’s sociological analysis of urban space reveals how buildings and spaces have been constructed for political and economic ends, particularly to shore up the monarchy. For several decades the architecture in central Bangkok has helped protect the charisma of the monarchy, which dominates landholdings and investments in the area. Because the sacred aura of the royal family legitimized capitalist expansion and consumerism, it was defended and enhanced by those Bangkokians who profited from it. Yet politically and geographically marginalized Thais failed to benefit from this royalist-led capitalist development and eventually found a new leader, business tycoon-cum-politician Thaksin Shinawatra. When Thaksin’s followers turned against royal charisma and attacked the architecture that represented and supported it, movement away from royal charismatic authority became a real possibility for the first time.

By combining sociology, political science, architecture, and anthropology, Working towards the Monarchy offers a unique interdisciplinary approach. It will interest scholars and generalists alike, particularly those involved in the comparative study of monarchies.

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Siam’s New Detectives: Visualizing Crime and Conspiracy in Modern Thailand
Samson W. Lim

Visual evidence is the sine qua non of the modern criminal process—from photographs and video to fingerprints and maps. Siam’s New Detectives offers an analytical history of these visual tools as employed by the Thai police when investigating crime. Covering the period between the late nineteenth century and the end of the Cold War, the book provides both an extended overview of the development and evolution of modern police practices in Thailand, and a window into the role of the Thai police within a larger cultural system of knowledge production about crime, violence, and history.

Based on a diverse set of primary sources—police reports, detective training manuals, trial records, newspaper stories, memoirs, archival documents, and hard-to-find crime fiction—the book makes two related arguments. First, the factuality of the visual evidence used in the criminal justice system stems as much from formal conventions—proper lighting in a crime scene photo, standardized markings on maps—as from the reality of what is being represented. Second, some images, once created, function as tools, helping the police produce truths about the criminal past. This generative power makes images such as crime scene maps useful as investigative aids but also means that scholars cannot analyze them simply in terms of mimetic accuracy or interpret them in isolation for deeper meaning. Understanding how modern legal systems operate requires an examination of the visual culture of the law, particularly the aesthetic rules that govern the generation and use of documentary evidence.

By examining modern policing in terms of visual culture, Siam’s New Detectives makes important methodological contributions. The book shows how a historical analysis of form can supplement the way many scholars have traditionally approached visual sources, as symbols requiring a close reading. By acknowledging the productive nature of images in addition to their symbolic functions, the book makes clear that policing is fundamentally an interactive, creative endeavor as much as a disciplinary one.

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Unequal Thailand: Aspects of Income, Wealth and Power
Editors: Pasuk Phongpaichi and Chris Baker

Extreme inequalities in income,wealth and power lie behind Thailand’s political turmoil. What are the sources of this inequality? Why does it persist, or even increase when the economy grows? How can it be addressed?

The contributors to this important study—Thai scholars, reformers and civil servants—shed light on the many dimensions of inequality in Thailand, looking beyond simple income measures to consider land ownership, education, finance, business structures and politics. The contributors propose a series of reforms in taxation, spending and institutional reform that can address growing inequality.

Inequality is among the biggest threats to social stability in Southeast Asia, and this close study of a key Southeast Asian country will be relevant to regional policy-makers, economists and business decision-makers, as well as students of oligarchy and inequality more generally.

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Ghosts of the Past in Southern Thailand: Essays on the History and Historiography of Patani
Editor: Patrick Jory

At the heart of the ongoing armed conflict in southern Thailand is a fundamental disagreement about the history of relations between the Patani Malays and the Thai kingdom. While the Thai royalist-nationalist version of history regards Patani as part of that “since time immemorial,” Patani Malay nationalists look back to a golden age when the Sultanate of Patani was an independent, prosperous trading state and a renowned center for Islamic education and scholarship in Southeast Asia a time before it was defeated, broken up, and brought under the control of the Thai state.

While still influential, in recent years these diametrically opposed views of the past have begun to make way for more nuanced and varied interpretations. Patani scholars, intellectuals and students now explore their history more freely and confidently than in the past, while the once-rigid Thai nationalist narrative is open to more pluralistic interpretations. There is growing interaction and dialogue between historians writing in Thai, Malay and English, and engagement with sources and scholarship in other languages, including Chinese and Arabic. In Ghosts of the Past in Southern Thailand, 13 scholars who have worked on this sensitive region evaluate the current state of current historical writing about the Patani Malays of southern Thailand.

The essays in this book demonstrate that an understanding of the conflict must take into account the historical dimensions of relations between Patani and the Thai kingdom, and the ongoing influence of these perceptions on Thai state officials, militants, and the local population.

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