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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“How is the charisma of the Thai monarchy visible in the highly modern urban edifice? To answer this intriguing question, Ünaldi walks us through a spectacular business district in the heart of Bangkok. The area reveals the monarchy as a capitalist conglomerate disguised by sacred charisma and illustrates how private business actively ‘works towards the monarchy.’ Whether or not we agree with Ünaldi’s provocative arguments, the more we engage with them, the more the façade of majesty crumbles.” —Thongchai Winichakul, author of Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation
“Serhat Ünaldi has written one of the most important books on Bangkok to appear for many years. Weaving together interlocking themes of power, wealth, space, protest, architecture, and consumerism, this brilliantly researched study illustrates how Thailand’s network monarchy has assumed new and more inchoate forms during the twenty-first century.” —Duncan McCargo, author of Tearing Apart the Land: Islam and Legitimacy in Southern Thailand
“Few well-researched academic books result in the author being banned from a country. Serhat Ünaldi’s account of the Thai monarchy, its allies, investments, and politics is one such book. Because this study is frank, well-written, and revealing, Thailand’s elite will be angered. Scholars of Thailand will be excited about a book that advances our understanding of contemporary Thailand’s politics and the political crisis of the past decade.” —Kevin Hewison, Murdoch University
“Since May 22, 2014, when General Prayuth staged a bloodless coup, the political debate in Thailand has been stifled. This book succeeds in breaking a two-year long academic silence. Ünaldi analyses the cultural denominations of the charisma surrounding Thai royalty and examines the problems confronting present-day Thailand in a work that combines social theory with architecture, politics with religion, city scape with symbolism, and power with the use of space.” —Barend Jan Terwiel, author of Thailand’s Political History: From the 13th Century to Recent Times
“This manuscript is refreshing. It provokes thought as it probes an otherwise untouchable topic and burrows beneath the secret domain of the Thai monarchy. At the twilight of the Bhumibol era, the arrival of this book is crucial. Ünaldi employs the concept of public spaces in Bangkok to symbolize the growing economic disparity and social inequality behind much of Thailand’s political unrest. Marginalized and frustrated, rural residents embarked on demolishing royal spaces in the capital, laying open a new shift in Thailand’s political landscape. Ünaldi’s book brilliantly investigates this shift. It is an important book on contemporary Thai politics.” —Pavin Chachavalpongpun, author of A Plastic Nation: The Curse of Thainess in Thai-Burmese Relations
“A welcome addition to Thai studies with a solid, convincing thesis, Ünaldi’s multi-layered political economy of architecture in Bangkok offers tremendous insight into the workings of the modern Thai monarchy. Some of the revelations are expected, while others are more shocking. Almost game changing, one might say.” —Christine E. Gray, cultural anthropologist