Bangkok / The role of tradition in the urban practices

The important transition in urban fabric and era was lost in translation between the years of Rama IV and the Early Rama IX, and the critical missing conjunction of the two “nations” was commented by Castells in the following, ” cities like all social reality, are historical products, not only in their physical materiality but in their cultural meaning… A city (and each type of city) is what historical society decides the city (and each city) will be. Urban is the social meaning assigned to a particular spatial form by a historically defined soceity.” (Castell 1983: 302) It is perhaps the leap and lost in resemblance of the cultural practices in urban planning, and the lack of physical connection from the urban core to the rural, with a fragmented suburban lining in between, that created the “generation gap” within the same city.

If an urban ideology only remain within the backbone areas, but unable to be deliver and transform the suburbans sand rural, could it still be acknowledged as the ideology of the nation? How can the ideology then create equivalent impact to the people at different geographical spreads, and stimulate their coherent sense of nationalism? Giddens once argued that “the tradition is easily and convincingly verified by reference to remains from history. Through the historical buildings, places, streets, etc, the city becomes a container of history and of meanings, which can be selectively activated.” (Giddens 1984:17) Giddens reminded us the value and important role of cultural and tradition as an activation of knowledge and memory in the city. However with the imposition of self-colonization in Rama Iv’s regime, the comprehension of the urban practices was completely revolutionized, and to an extreme that “These dual, duplicating realities were also manifested in the private realm. At home, the wealthier Thai entertained Europeans in quarters wholly Europeans, but lived in their traditional way in quarters wholly Thai” (Sternstein 1982:21).

The tradition was layered with an additional alienated style, that contradicted the pure Thai custom, especially for the lower classes who were unable to adapt to the fusion. Although the revolutionized political movement on urban codes and renovation was a nationalistic intention to protect its land from colonization, but was ironically resolved through the method of self-colonization to redefine the lifestyle and social realm of the people with Western values. The political policy might perhaps protected Bangkok from brutal wars and movement, but the sacrifices of locality in city’s development become a disconnected joint for the lower classes to recall its sense of nationalism.



ANDRE, Sorensen. (2011) Megacities: Urban Form. Governance, and Sustainability. 1st Ed. London: Springer.

NAS, J.M. Peter. (1993) Bangkok as Symbol. Urban Symbolism.1st Ed. New York: Studies in Human Society.

SINTUSINGHA. S & MIRGHOLAMI. M. (2011) Parallel modernization and self-colonization:Urban evolution and practices in Bangkok and Tehran. Elsevier. . p.1 – 9

2 Comments on “Bangkok / The role of tradition in the urban practices

  1. I agree that the history of a city would speak most of what it is. No matter how far the city undergoes urbanization but only in selective areas, those left behind places would still reflect the real image of the it. Even the reaction of the citizens towards the urbanized fabric, such as the use of space by people, could also tell the honest side of the city.

  2. The “When Water Becomes Concrete” hypothesis is highly provocative, and is a well-known aspect of Bangkok’s urbanization process with a new reliance on automobiles, attributed much to American influences. It’ll be wonderful to tie in this “western” influence together with the narratives of “urban iconography” and “the role of tradition.” There are very useful theoretical frameworks about “urban ideology.” Please ensure that you adequately cross-reference the readings you have encountered, even if you are referring to a source for the second time, following other scholars. If this research is to become a strong argument, it is imperative that there is a connection between the discursive historical moments (eg. early Rama Kingdoms), and the use of “tradition” in urban development as supporting or resisting the new reliance on highways – “water becoming concrete.” As a suggestion, can you center this research work around a particular new highway program (eg. Ten Years Roadway Program in the 70s) that turned “water to concrete,” and then situate other moments in history, or position other theoretical frameworks, relating to this critical highway program?

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