A fresh understanding of the ongoing Thai political conflict is offered by this highly accessible ethnographic study, which explores the connections between status, space, and social life in Bangkok. The author argues that the notion of the ‘urban–rural divide’ popularly used to describe the conflict obscures a more complex reality in which city and countryside are linked by reciprocal relations within both urban and national systems of status and class. This is clearly discernible in the nature of everyday interclass relations in Bangkok, which have been exacerbated by diminishment and marginalization of upcountry Thais by the urban middle classes. It is an incendiary dynamic that has been exploited to tremendous effect in the current political power struggle. The author further explores how middle-class culture and identity are drawn in large part from their understandings of status practices of elites.
Structural constraints and the societal privileging of wealth and connections are constant challenges to middle-class aspirations for upward mobility. This disenchantment has been channelled into a churning politics of resentment with demonstrably explosive potential. Ultimately, however, the author argues that this discontent will contribute little to reform while the majority of individuals feel their only avenue for social mobility is to negotiate a pre-existing system that many perceive as unjust.
Sophorntavy Vorng is an anthropologist and postdoctoral research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity. She attained her PhD in Anthropology at the University of Sydney, Australia. Her scholarly interests include space and politics, consumption and identity, aspirations and status inequality, and contemporary Buddhist belief and practice. She is currently conducting research on religion, marginality and addiction in northern Thailand.