Bangkok/ Ideological Constructions: Bangkok as Symbiosis of Tradition and Modernity
The urban planning of Bangkok throughout the years would show a change in the conceptions of the nation as a whole and the underlying principles that give the state its authority. Before questioning and implying the sense of a westernized concept of “nationalism” on an Asian country, one must return to the roots and understand the development of the Asian understanding of such a word throughout the course of history.
To be general, there had been little sense of nationality as an identity of groups of people. Such concepts did not exist in the East, be it China, Japan or Thailand. There were concepts of families and blood ties, which formed the backbone of the hierarchical social orders. The country was viewed as the property of the royal family, the legitimacy of it coming from divine yet intangible sources. An Asian country could be a dynasty, yet there was a lack of a binding contract, manifesting in the form of a Western constitution that would delineate the rights and obligations of state and people respectively, that could formulate fraternity in the sense of a nation.
At the time when the development of Bangkok as administrative centre changed its meaning as sacred centre, when the bureaucracy replaced the nobility as the new elite, sacredness, which was connected with the king, was transformed into nationalism, which was connected with the central administration and the officials. Bangkok was defined as national capital. (Evers, Korff 2000 p. 86)
Bangkok’s “democracy” process, the attempt to shift the major axis of the city from the royal grounds to the bureaucratic government quarters, underlined the change of the mentality of the ruling elites. Of course, one might counter that this change was driven by a survival tactic of “self-colonization” amidst foreign aggressions in East Asia in the period, but it also provided a vision of a people to how their homes should be run. Integration of trading networks would generate the required revenue for the state’s profits and ensure an organized economy. With the capital city as the hub, territorial expansion and integration of provinces could ensue. The efficient administration that this would allow would push Thailand from its traditions to the global benchmark of a modern and bustling international community.
EVERS, H. & KORFF, R. (2000) Southeast Asian Urbanism: The Meaning and Power of Social Space. St Martin’s Press.
DOVEY, K. (2001) ‘Memory, Democracy and Urban Space: Bangkok’s ‘Path to Democracy’. Journal of Urban Design 6(3), 265-282