Beneath the protest marches, rallies and sieges dividing Thailand in recent times are more subtle pressures that emerge from everyday encounters involving cultural notions of rank and hierarchy. These are the focus of this highly accessible ethnographic study, which ventures beyond the barricades to explore the connections between inequality, space and social life in modern-day Bangkok.
The author argues that the notion of an urban–rural divide obscures a far more complex reality linking city and countryside in reciprocal relations within both urban and national systems of status and class. Global market forces have increased the emphasis on material wealth in contemporary status relations and exacerbated pre-existing inequalities informed by a premodern system of status ranking called sakdina. This has compounded the challenges facing the growing urban middle classes and further marginalised rural and economically disadvantaged Thais.
For Bangkok’s middle classes, pursuing aspirations and constructing class identity involve negotiating a competitive social hierarchy based on status display and conspicuous consumption practices. Much of this is enacted in urban spaces such as shopping malls. Yet, access to opportunities and upward social mobility are often thwarted by an entrenched and unjust system of patronage and elite privilege. The resulting tensions have been exploited to tremendous effect in the ongoing political power struggle.