Working Towards the Monarchy
The Politics of Space in Downtown Bangkok
University of Hawaii Press 2016
New Books in ArchitectureNew Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in GeographyNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Political ScienceNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Southeast Asian StudiesNew Books Network March 28, 2017 Nick Cheesman
In Working Towards the Monarchy: The Politics of Space in Downtown Bangkok (University of Hawaii Press, 2016), Serhat Unaldi offers a provocative and original interpretation of the relationship between space, architecture and power in one of Southeast Asia’s biggest and most complicated cities. Climbing the towers and exploring the alleyways of Siam-Ratchaprasong, that part of Bangkok famous for its gaudy malls, pretentious hotels and tourist strips, Unaldi finds that the charismatic authority of the royal institution has combined with the political economy of the capitalist marketplace to form a highly potent yet unstable admixture of elements for modern state formation. The dense concentration of forces for elite domination of Thailand in these few city blocks at once affirms and celebrates the project’s success, enabling the dominant classes to be seen exactly as they would have themselves seen. But these spaces are also fraught with danger, subject to instability caused by realignments among erstwhile allies within, and to increasingly overt challenges to the status quo from opponents without — expressed most dramatically in the antigovernment protests of 2010, which left in their wake the smoldering ruins of the very architectural hierarchy intended to signify modernity via proper relations of inequality.
Serhat Unaldi joins New Books in Southeast Asian Studies to talk about Siam Paragon and the politics of space, the appeal of Thaksin Shinawatra, the Erawan Shrine and its others, disappeared and hidden palaces, Phibun Songkhram and the making of Chulalongkorn University, and how all roads in Bangkok lead to the monarchy.
Nick Cheesman is a fellow at the College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University and in 2016-17 a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. He can be reached at email@example.com