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The Intimate Economies of Bangkok

Tomboys, Tycoons, and Avon Ladies in the Global City

Ara Wilson (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 288 pages
ISBN: 9780520239685
July 2004
$34.95, £24.95
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Bangkok has been at the frontier of capitalism's drive into the global south for three decades. Rapid development has profoundly altered public and private life in Thailand. In her provocative study of contemporary commerce in Bangkok, Ara Wilson captures the intimate effects of the global economy in this vibrant city.

The Intimate Economies of Bangkok is a multifaceted portrait of the intertwining of identities, relationships, and economics during Bangkok's boom years. Using innovative case studies of women's and men's participation in a range of modern markets—department stores, go-go bars, a popular downtown mall, a telecommunications company, and the direct sales corporations Amway and Avon—Wilson chronicles the powerful expansion of capitalist exchange into further reaches of Thai society. She shows how global economies have interacted with local systems to create new kinds of lifestyles, ranging from "tomboys" to corporate tycoons to sex workers.

Combining feminist theory with classic anthropological understandings of exchange, this historically grounded ethnography maps the reverberations of gender, sexuality, and ethnicity at the hub of Bangkok's modern economy.
List of Illustrations
Notes on Transliteration and Dates

Introduction: Intimate Economies
1. From Shophouse to Department Store
2. The Economies of Intimacy in the Go-Go Bar
3. MBK: The Retail Revolution and the Infrastructure of Romance
4. The Flexible Citizens of IBC Cable TV
5. The Avon Lady, the Amway Plan, and the Making of Thai Entrepreneurs
Conclusion: The Intimacy of Capitalism

Ara Wilson is Associate Professor of Women's Studies at Ohio State University.
"Wilson shows us how global dreams come to life in the cacophony of Bangkok's markets. Business tycoons, sex workers, mall strollers, and penny capitalists: Each forms an exemplary figure, a source of reflection and emulation. In this engrossing work, the women and men of Bangkok produce themselves--and the global economy. I have seen no better ethnography of globalization."—Anna Tsing, author of In the Realm of the Diamond Queen

"This fascinating book draws together the strands that weave intimate and kinship worlds into the fabric of the modern Thai economy. From floating markets to department stores and go-go bars, Wilson's inquiry reveals the gendered practices that sustain economic domains, and how these commercial venues in turn recast the intimate life. Upending stereotypical notions about Thai gender, Intimate Economies casts a complex, feminist perspective on the new styles of being emerging in the spaces of global capitalism."—Aihwa Ong, author of Buddha Is Hiding

"Wilson brilliantly deciphers the ways intimate lives--personas, subjectivities, relations--are involved in the formation of modern and transnational capitalist markets. To do this she carefully unpacks the social infrastructure of five different globalized markets in Bangkok."—Saskia Sassen, author of Guests and Aliens

"Offers something rare and valuable in studies of globalization--a fine-grained ethnography at the intersection of capitalist and non-capitalist economies. In Ara Wilson's fascinating study of urban Thailand, the sex trade is intertwined with the gift economy, the department store with the kin economy. Navigating this often surprising terrain with unusual agility, Wilson has produced a masterful record of new worlds and new subjects in the making."—Julie Graham, co-author of The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy

Intimate Economies

Two of Bangkok's well-known tourist attractions offer clues for understanding the powerful effects of the global economy unfolding in Thailand today. The first attraction is the photogenic "floating market," the early-morning market in canals where women sell produce and goods from small canoes. The second is the commercial zone of "Chinatown," specifically Sampeng Lane, a dense street of wholesale shophouses. By evoking colorful markets from Thailand's past, these attractions point to the cultural, even intimate, properties of the economy.

Floating markets feature women in indigo clothes and straw hats selling fruits, vegetables, snacks, and also T-shirts, silk garments, and knickknacks. On the banks of the canal, warehouse-sized stores are piled high with souvenirs. Organized tours take tourists a few hours outside Bangkok proper to visit "one of the most authentic left in Thailand," where they can purchase items and take photographs of "this millennium old tradition [on the] verge of extinction."1

The distinctive picture of the vendors in their small boats, loaded with baskets of produce, offers a recognizable symbol of Thai traditions. Images of the floating market pervade the tourist archive, providing a standard graphic for postcards, coffee-table books, T-shirts, and posters. The familiar boat loaded with produce even appears on an English-language government pamphlet about venereal disease (see figure 1). Cultivated first for the foreign gaze, the image of the floating market has also come to symbolize Thailand and Thainess in materials oriented to Thais. Recently, a photo of women in boats filled with produce was circulated with the phrase "Thais help Thais." The slogan itself was widely employed in a government effort encouraging Thais to buy domestic goods and to rally together following the 1997 economic crisis that began in Bangkok and spread across the Asian region.2

Even if most of the examples of floating markets around Bangkok are now choreographed for the tourist economy, this water-borne exchange harks back to a long stretch, if not quite a "millennium old," of Thai history, when canals and rivers provided the major arteries and Westerners called Bangkok the Venice of the East. They illustrate the water-oriented nature of the traditional life of the Thai, whose houses were built on stilts by the rivers that irrigated their rice fields. Perhaps unintentionally, these tourist attractions also highlight a constant observation about Thailand and much of Southeast Asia: that local markets are worlds of women, and that women conduct a good deal of the local trade.3 By at least the nineteenth century, market womenñmae kha (mother traders)ñexchanged produce, cowries, Mexican coins, Indian rupees, and Thai coinage with traveling male Chinese vendors, acting as the frontier of the market economy in their villages.4 In any given Bangkok neighborhood and throughout the Southeast Asian region, women vendors still predominate in small markets. Peasant women bring extra produce to nearby market areas or specialize in selling prepared foods, handicrafts, petty commodities, and contraband.

The prevalence of women in markets is virtually a cliché in observations about Thailand, and there are numerous studies of market women. Yet when it comes to discussing the Thai economy, their presence is generally forgotten. Their absence from the discussion results from gendered conceptions of the economy and of Thai identity. In academic, economic, and popular understandings, the "Thai" people and Thai culture have been envisioned as separate from the market economy, largely because Theravada Buddhism is central to Thai society (it is the state religion), and Buddhism is often understood as a nonmaterialistic religion. In this way, discourses about Thainess have often erased Thai women's key roles at the economic and cultural crossroads of markets of Thai society. Instead, the emergence of the modern, capitalist economy is typically credited solely to immigrants from China and their Sino-Thai children, an ethnic economy represented in the second tourist site to which I turn.

"Chinatown" is the English name given to a large and variegated market area of old Bangkok. It is known for a patchwork of commerce that includes imported fruit, vegetables, and prepared food; apothecary shops and street stalls peddling sexual aids; bazaars selling secondhand junk and counterfeit goods; and stores specializing in luxury textiles, electronics, coffins, and gold. The best-known market within this area is Sampeng Lane. Sampeng is a tightly packed strip lined by hundreds of small wholesale shops selling imported and domestically made goods: fabric by the yard, paper and plastic goods, novelty items, and bags and hats bearing contemporary logos (often imitations of well-known brands, like Gap or Polo), packaged in dozens.

Despite its claustrophobic feel, Sampeng Lane has been an attraction for visitors at least since the 1960s, when the "News for Nang and Nang Sao" (News for Mrs. and Miss) column in the leading English-language newspaper wrote of its "frequent listing as one of the 'sights to see' in Bangkok." The article explained, "Sampeng Lane is not a tourist trap but is a strictly utilitarian market."5 Unlike the typical floating market, sightseers come to see utilitarian, business-as-usual operations of merchants, hawkers, deliverymen, and buyers. They also come to savor the area's "local color." Tourist guides encourage trips to Chinatown, providing helpful maps of the many lanes that crisscross Sampeng and sketching the area's "colorful" history of gang fights, prostitution, and opium dens.6

Economic Tourism

Chinatown and floating markets signal Thai history, tradition, and culture, particularly in contrast with the modern urbanityñthe shopping malls, high-rise buildings, go-go bars, or outlying factoriesñthat characterizes more and more of Bangkok. To Thais, they signify different elements of the country's past. To foreign tourists from industrialized countries, they provide the experience of "otherness" that is one of the aims of such travel. Thailand was never colonized by the West. Still, lingering images of ethnic enclaves in port cities from the era of Europe's colonial empires in Asia inform many foreigners' perception of Chinatown and other features of Thailand.

It is noteworthy that particular economic forms serve as symbols of tradition and culture when Thai tradition is typically envisioned apart from the market economy. The historical floating market trade is an example of petty commodity exchange that is based on a surplus of farm products; its traders do not accumulate wealth through this trade. Shophouses typically are small businesses, often owned by a family, of a form called merchant capitalist or comprador capitalist. (See figure 2.) This merchant trade allows businesses to make and reinvest profit (one of the hallmarks of capitalism) and employ wage labor. As examples of Thai history, they reveal traces of modernity within Thai tradition. Well before the massive tourist industry, Chinatown's trade and even peasant markets were integrated into national and international economies. Old-time floating markets, mimicked in tourist versions, were intricately connected to the economic and modernization projects of the kingdom: the canals that women vendors gathered on were designed by the Siamese state to facilitate the export-oriented rice trade, which expanded exponentially from at least the 1850s on, and women's trading was connected to the commercialization of their family farming.

To say that these markets were and are integrated into a larger economic system shaped by international capitalism is not to deny that these trades differ from the economies of global corporations. The older economies of vernacular bazaars and urban merchant trade differ in terms of scale, infrastructure, organization, and values and, significantly, in the ways they are embedded in local communities and culture. The contrast between these traditional markets and modern retail crystallizes the drastic changes that have taken place in marketing, first in the 1950s and 1960s and then dramatically in the 1980s and 1990s. Such broad-sweeping changes to the local flavor of markets make the hawker and merchant compelling tourist attractions. The appeal of such older venues for modern visitors derives less from the nature of their actual economic functions than from their cultural qualities.

The "color" of these antiquated markets derives from their real or suggested connections to older ways of life, indicated by the presence of social worlds, cultural practices, and particular identities. Around Sampeng, numerous Chinese shrines and temples, shark-fin or noodle soup restaurants, and Chinese-language signs lend a distinctly ethnic cast to this commercial space. Most of Sampeng's trade is connected with the Chinese minority of Thailand. This trade involves community, specifically kin and ethnic networks. Shophouse businesses that bundle pocketbooks, sneakers, or keychains for shipment abroad are typically family concerns, drawing on family members' labor and support. The place of families in the public floating markets might be invisible, but the economic roles of women tradersñeven in the tourist economyñare inseparable from patterns of kinship.

Another way that these premodern market attractions signal cultural tradition is through the people associated with them. In both the floating market and the Sampeng shophouse, the figure of the vendor is key. For the boat seller, the straw hat and indigo peasant clothes or colorful sarong demarcate her role. The Sampeng merchant is less marked by costume than by ethnicity and surroundings. For Thai observers, Chinese male bosses (tao kae) form a codified figure, the Sino-Thai commercial family is an established formation, and even their shophouses present a recognizable architectural-economic form. The figures of Thai female vendors or of Chinese shopkeepers are marked by gender and national-ethnic identities as well as by class associations of peasant or bourgeoisie; their identities symbolize older economic systems and ways of life.

As even this cursory sketch suggests, in the historical floating market and present-day Sampeng Lane shophouse, social worlds are intertwined with economic systems. Paddling vendors and Chinese shrines are connected to local ways of life. Another example of the overlap of social identities and economies can be seen in the use of kinship terms for the roles involved in commercial exchange: the term for female vendor (mae kha) means "mother trader" or "mother of trade"; phaw kha for male vendor means "father of trade"; and luuk kha for consumer means "child of trade."7 This integration of social and economic systems conveys the presence of intimate life, at least in old-fashioned economies. This is how these tourist markets provide clues for understanding the global economy. They invite the question, What is intimate about capitalist modernity?

One of the fundamental questions in current scholarship on the global south in general is how the linked processes of globalization, modernization, and transnational capitalism affect people's everyday lives. Capitalist development in Thailand has changed the stage for citizens' identities, subjectivities, communities, and relationships. It has transformed the ways people support themselves and their families and live day to day, altered the class composition of the country and city, and generated a powerful consumer culture that informs all manner of identities. The effects of capitalist modernity are far reaching, entering the intimate realms of daily life. But the global economy itself is typically seen as lacking the texture of local culture. As the tourist attractions of the floating market and Sampeng Lane illustrate, the effects of global capitalism are often registered as a loss of the social and cultural dimensions of economic realms. The implicit contrast between a multinational chain store and a floating market implies that modern commerce diminishes the intimate texture of public economic realms. The Intimate Economies of Bangkok challenges these assumptions by revealing the intimacy within modern global capitalist venues. It might seem paradoxical to look for the intimacy of capitalism, a hegemonic economic system that, almost by definition, is seen as nonintimate and impersonal. To eyes steeped in contemporary urban worlds, modern capitalism lacks the social texture so visible in the floating market or Chinatown. Certainly such signs of social meanings and relationships as ethnicity, gender, and kinshipñso visible in antiquated marketsñare harder to register amid the shiny surfaces and generic uniforms of modern transnational capitalist institutions. And as I show, the intersection of market economies and intimate life has undeniably been transformed with capitalist development. Yet, as I also show, intimate identities and relationships, specifically gender, ethnicity, and sexuality have been and continue to be centrally involved in the operations of modernizing markets. Just as floating markets and Chinatown are in their own way modern, newer commercial venues also include social and cultural dimensions, even where these are not easily seen. Understanding the intimate aspects of capitalist markets illuminates the power of and limits on the global economy's ability to remake social worlds.

This book explores the intimate qualities of increasingly global capitalist economies in Bangkok by examining specific commercial sites. Each chapter is grounded in a different kind of market: department stores, the tourist sex trade, a popular downtown mall, a telecommunications marketing office, and Amway and Avon (direct sales). These markets are "modern" in that they are contemporary, shaped by transnational flows, and are associated with and helped to propel modernization in Thailand. Each example captures a moment where commodified exchange is extending its reach into social lifeñinto sexual, domestic, and romantic arenasñand expanding its role in defining public and personal identities. Together, these different venues of the capitalist economy illustrate the "local color" and social and cultural texture of global capitalism in Bangkok.

The term intimate economies in the title of this book introduces its rubric for analyzing interactions between economic systems and social life, particularly gender, sexuality, and ethnicity. By intimate, I mean features of people's daily lives that have come to seem noneconomic, particularly social identities (e.g., woman) and relationships (e.g., kinship); by calling these intimate, I mean to capture the deeply felt orientations and entrenched practices that make up what people consider to be their personal or private lives and their individual selves.8 I take the ethnographic view of identities as inextricable from, and realized through, social relationships.9 The use of the plural economies recognizes that there are different economic systems even within the same society. My approach is premised on the often-overshadowed notion that economic systems are not separate from intimate life, as orthodox conceptions of the economy suggest, but are inextricable from social relations and identities. According to cultural anthropology, economic systems incorporate social and cultural realms that are typically considered "private" and separate from the formal economy. Inversely, critical social theory suggests that social life is not separate from, but linked with, economic affairs. Just as intimate life (e.g., gender identities, sexual relationships, and ethnic ties) crosses into the public arena of markets and jobs, those public realms profoundly affect people's private interactions and self-conceptions. The ways that global capitalist economies involve and shape identities and relationships differ from earlier modes, as I illustrate in the portraits of various Bangkok markets. But in this broad anthropological perspective, economic systemsñeven corporate capitalismñare composed of social and cultural processes and are lived in daily life. By intimate economies, then, I mean the complex interplay between these intimate social dimensions and plural economic systems in a context shaped by transnational capitalism.

Following canonical anthropology, my approach defines the economy as systems of production, distribution, and consumption, a definition that recognizes that societies have been arranged by different economic principles, not all of them governed by a market logic. This view sees economics in kinship and gender systems, in the gendered division of labor, for example. Kinship and gender systemsñor sex/gender systemsñorganize work, property, and the distribution of resources: another way to say this is that sex/gender kin systems and economic systems shape each other. Kinship is also economic by virtue of its reliance on exchange; families, for example, are constituted by material and symbolic exchangesñincluding weddings and many sexual relationships.10 This kin economy or folk economy has also been connected to a "moral economy," an economy that may rely on markets and money but that is governed or at least constrained by local community values and expectations.11 The logic and values of various kin, folk, or moral economies are generally guided not by extracting and accumulating profit (although families may accumulate great wealth) but by the need to define, maintain, or elaborate relationships to kin, community, patrons, temples, and the spirit world. Considering the interaction of the folk economy with the market economy illuminates the changing configuration of identities and relationships in Bangkok.

Background: Economies and Identities in Thailand

Before turning to the economic nature of social identities in Thailand's history, it is important to recognize, as many recent scholars of Thailand have, that the terms used to describe Thai life are more complex and contested than they appear, including the term Thai. Thai properly denotes citizenship in the Kingdom of Thailand, which was called Siam until after World War II. Tai refers to the major linguistic and cultural groupings in the country, comprising different ethnicities (Lao, Siamese, Lanna); these categories themselves were formed through historical and political processes. However, the political term Thai is often used as shorthand for the various ethnicities considered "Tai." This is problematic because Thai is a national identity forged as a hegemonic umbrella in part to obscure and contain ethnic and regional diversity.12 Studies of Thailand emphasize that there is significant social variation among different ethnic groups in the countryñand also among different classes; among Buddhists, Muslims, animists, and others; between the city and countryside; and among the north, south, northeast, and the central regions (although all have been dominated by the capital city of Bangkok). Ideally, then, simple categories such as "Thai men and women" should be rendered more complex to acknowledge the constructed nature of "Thai" and also to recognize the existence of other sex/gender positions, notably the male-to-female transgender kathoey or the masculine female tom. Thailand's clearly demarcated gendered positions also intersect with age, status, ethnicity, region, nationality, class, spirituality, and other identity frameworks. Because we have not yet worked out a language to convey these complexities while analyzing broad social trends (that is, when the categories are not themselves the focus of the investigation), I still use the established terms for social identities, like Thai or woman, as I map intersections between economic and social worlds.

One finds many such intersections in Thai tradition, which has been bound up with diverse economic principles and practices. Until the twentieth century, Thai society as a whole was stratified by a feudalistic ranking system called sakdina, using legal and economic measures (typically involving control of people more than land) that were inseparable from social and spiritual characteristics. The centuries-long development of the capitalist market economy in Siam-Thailand influenced and changed this social class system as well as other identities and relationships, including gender.

In village communities, the organization of work, inheritance, and resources, as well as the calculus for evaluating relationships and people, is governed by a folk economy that articulates with, but is separate from, market economies. Exchange is the idiom and mechanism for many, if not most, relationships in Thailand: parent-child, senior-junior, husband-wife, and son-in-law to wife's family, laity-monk, human-spirit, and friend-friend. The interactions between the monastic order and the laity are depicted in terms of transformative exchange: householders (mainly women) provide the daily sustenance to monks, who act as "fields of merit," providing the opportunity to accumulate merit (which is calculated quite materially in terms of a store or amount of substance). Furthermore, at the monk's ordination, the mother's "gift" of her son to the monkhood secures her place in heaven. The enactment and definition of many Thai social identities, such as women's position as "nurturer" or the relations of seniors (phi) to juniors (nawng), can also be understood in this light, as an orientation framed in terms of debt and exchange. Anyone incurs debt to a guardian or to one who has offered significant aid and instruction (e.g., teachers), and all children are born indebted, but male and female children have different prospects for repaying that debt.13 This calculus is part of a folk economy and remains crucial to defining and evaluating gender, sexual, and familial identities in Thailand.

As the example of the floating market vendors shows, the female gender has historically been connected simultaneously to a folk economy and to an evolving market economy, dual investments that are interconnected. The preponderance of Thai women in local markets has implications for understanding the economic dimensions of traditional gender systems. Much commentary about Thailand has remarked on women's visible economic roles, not only in markets, but also in rice farms, all variety of factories, and families, where daughters and mothers bear a responsibility to provide for the unit. While all children are obliged to repay their debts to their parents, daughters' obligations are life-long and are interpreted in quite material terms. Before the late nineteenth century, according to Thai feminist researchers, "economic responsibility was part of a daughter's moral obligation to her parents," and failure to fulfill this duty was considered a serious sin or demerit.14 As anthropologists note, women's traditional economic practices remain firmly embedded in their social worlds: "Women's economic control [in the family] was managerial, with the household rather than the individual as the basic economic unit."15 Just as this economic role was not the maximizing individual of economic theory, it derived not from capitalist principles but from the moral, spiritual, and material principles of kin and folk economies. Such cultural principles propelled women to work in agricultural, manufacturing, and commercial economies of all sorts.

While mainstream Western culture views women's obligations to their familyñor female qualities of nurturance and femininityñas an obstacle to economic participation, the reverse holds true for everyone but the aristocratic elite in Thailand. The significance of market exchange for the female gender is not the by-product of modernity but, in fact, a long-standing feature of Thai gender systems. Thus, Thai women's economic activity can be read as traditional at the same time that traditional femininity for Thai commoners should be understood as deeply economic.16 Indeed, it was Thai masculinity that was ideally removed from trafficking in market trade, which was historically the low-status province of women and foreign men. Here is another reason that Thai culture is often considered noneconomic and Thais have been declared lacking in entrepreneurial spirit: Thailand's overarching social hierarchy has associated markets and money with foreigners and with women, not with Thai men. At the same time, ethnic, gender, and spiritual identities (to the extent that trafficking in money has been considered problematic for Thai Buddhism) have informed Thai interpretations of the market arena.17

Women have remained pivotal in the juncture between local folk economies (which themselves have changed over time) and evolving market economies. The trade of extra produce in floating markets or community bazaars have represented one portion of the web of monetary, barter, and kin exchanges that have characterized many village women's wide-ranging economic practices. Thai women's links to local markets continue into the present.

Transnational Identities in Siam/Thailand

Thailand is noteworthy for never having been formally colonized by a European power. The lack of formal colonialism meant that trade provided the major avenue for transnational influence to enter the country. Villagers consumed imported textiles and canned goods well before they encountered European discourses about individualism, hygiene, or race. For years the global market reached more intimately into local homes than Europeans did. The mediums for this commercial influence were traveling Chinese vendors and Thai market women.

As the capital of Thailand for more than two centuries and a major crossroads for regional trade and travel, Bangkok has historically been a multicultural city. Because Siam/Thailand was never a colony, the tenor of racial, ethnic, and national discourses differs from those of former European and American colonies and territories. The racial prestige of Europeans and whites has not been tied to official political or economic control of the country, as the case has been with colonized countries. The European presence was confined to the capital city, Bangkok, and did not extend into peasant communities.

However, since the mid- nineteenth century, Thailand has been profoundly influenced and constrained by Europe (England and France in particular), Japan (which occupied the country during World War II), and later the United States. These asymmetrical relations can be considered imperialist or neocolonialist, and Thailand shares aspects of the postcolonial condition of the rest of Southeast Asia. Europeans' economic and political power intertwined with national and racial identities and established an enduring high status to whiteness that informs the experience of white tourists and scholars today. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Europeans used their political clout to force Siam to adopt economic treaties and political arrangements that were favorable to their corporate and colonial enterprises in the region, and they dominated the Thai import-export business. European society influenced Thai laws, public discourse, and elite culture. The modern Thai nation was constructed partly in reaction to European power and Western discourses about progress and civilization, for example, in the imposition of patrilineal surnames and ineffectual laws against polygyny in the 1900s. The legal and economic changes that the Siamese regime adopted, under the threat of European colonization, expanded the scale of the monetary economy in Thailand and ushered in vast changes to the social worlds of the kingdom's diverse subjects.

Apart from migrants from Europe and southeastern China, the foreign residents of Bangkok (mostly male) included Javanese, Burmese, Sri Lankans (Ceylonese), and Vietnamese.18 Some were war captives, but many came to work at labor or trade. In Siam, organized commerce and long-distance trading was conducted mainly by Chinese, Indian, and Mon men.19 The national and ethnic identities of these immigrants were inflected with economic roles and meanings, such as class, occupation, and characteristic work styles. Of Bangkok's female residents, most were Siamese women, with a minority of Chinese women.

Precisely because of their collective role in the economy, the Chinese in Thailand have received the most attention. Buying and marketing riceñthe engine of the Thai economy until only recentlyñwere the province of traders from China. Chinese residents constituted most of Bangkok's business groups and middle classes. Although subject to special regulations and discrimination during highly nationalist periods of this century, since the 1960s, the Sino-Thai have not been targeted by the state or publicly attacked the way they have been, for example, in Indonesia. A politicized ethnic-national category, the Chinese identity requires further attention.

"Chinese" refers to the migrants who formed part of the worldwide diaspora from the southern coast of China and their descendants, who are also called Sino-Thai. In Thailand, they are separated into first-generation "old Chinese" (jin kao) and Chinese offspring (luuk jin). The category of Chinese subsumes various language, regional, and ethnic groups: Teochiu (the majority), Hokkien, Hakka, Hainanese (Hailam, in Thai), and Cantonese. In Thailand, as elsewhere in Southeast Asia, the ethnic identity of "Chinese" has been particularly defined in relation to economic practices and meanings and associated with cleverness in money and success in trade or, at the lower end, with "coolie" wage labor, forming long-lasting images of anonymous laborers or clever traders. But this economic-ethnic group is also defined by well-known cultural traits and practices, such as ancestor worship and a detailed ritual calendar, effective ethnic groups and networks, and strong kinship relations. All of these can also be understood as part of a folk or kin economy but are inseparable from participation in the formal capitalist economy. With the increasing power and legitimacy of business in Thailand, Chineseness has also transformed into an ethnically inflected and often positively valued identity, at least for successful businessmen.

"Chinese" is also a gendered identity. In discourses about Thailand, the Chinese ethnicity is often represented in terms of masculine roles. The prevailing figures are the tao kae merchant, jao sua tycoon, and patriarch, but also the laboring "coolie" and characters from well-known Chinese court sagas. Before the 1920s, most but not all of these migrants were men. Many had children with or traded with Siamese women, so that a good number of those who count as "Chinese" in Thailand have Siamese female ancestors. But some immigrants from China were women, especially after World War I, and their labor was key to Sino-Thai commerce. Discussions of the Chinese role in the Thai market economy tend to erase the active participation of women, both Chinese and Thai, including traders, wives, and daughters.20

Capitalist Development in Thailand

As this introduction shows, Siam/Thailand has long been shaped by transnational flows of people, goods, and moneys and by international political contexts of colonialism and its aftermath. Markets, operated by "aliens" and Thai women, were a key medium for local communities' relations to broader worlds. From the 1950s, the government and local businesses undertook to revamp Thailand's economy, to spur industrialization, install more capitalist organization, and articulate more with the global economy. International economic trends toward greater transnational investments in emerging markets and political arrangements of the Cold War and post-Cold War periods (including U.S. involvement in Indochina wars, which injected millions of dollars into the Thai economy) fashioned Thailand's economic directions as well.

The chapters in this book illustrate aspects of Thailand's capitalist development in the post—World War II period, using specific market forms as windows into the changing intimate economies of Bangkok society. Surrounded on the mainland by communist countries, Thailand pursued a laissez-faire capitalist path to economic growth that encouraged foreign investment, industrialization, and tourism, with relatively few regulations (including little protection for peasants, workers, or the environment). From the 1960s until 1997, economic measures grew at rates among the highest in the world. These developments resulted from increasingly corporate and industrial systems of farming (e.g., commercial shrimp farms), manufacturing, and finance. Scholarship on Thailand has been grappling with the wide-ranging uneven effects of global capitalism on social structure, cultural values, and daily life. To address this impact, it is important to pay attention to the specific characteristics of capitalism and to investigate how a capitalist economy interacts with and changes existing economic and social systems.

Capitalism is an economic system oriented to "the market" (ultimately a global market) that uses money to measure value, pay people for work or debts, and conduct exchange. The exchange system of capitalism is commodified exchange in which goods, services, labor, and even money itself derive their meaning and value from the market. Capitalist enterprises are oriented to making profit and accumulating capital to reinvest. In capitalist logic, the market drives the overall economy, yet market exchange itself depends on production. For example, in Thailand, the economics of retail and trade, real estate, and consumption depend on commercial agriculture, more recently on manufacturing, and on the readiness of large numbers of people to work for wages. Capitalist development spreads an economic system that is profoundly different in organization and logic from folk, kin, and small-scale market economies.

On the ground, however, there is no one single capitalist economy. As capitalist market economies expand and become more global, they interact with other economic systems. For example, a local manufacturer uses kinship and village networks to coordinate putting-out piecework systems. The floating market (both the tourist and historical versions) and Sampeng shophouses suggest that a variety of market forms can be integrated within an overall economy structured along capitalist lines. Likewise, kin and folk economies continue to exist and interact with market economies; for example, the marriage gift the groom's family gives to the bride's family has been inflated and now includes consumer items and cash as well as gold and sometimes livestock. Offerings to ancestors and spirits include imported whiskey, and among the votive offerings burned for recently deceased relatives are paper versions of such goods as cars and televisions.

The nature of the overlap and interaction between capitalist economies and long-standing social institutions, such as community standards for prices or the gendered division of labor, varies considerably in place, time, and setting and is itself the subject of much theoretical and political debate.21 Compared with kin-based farms, feudal societies, or markets governed by community-bound moral economies, modern capitalist systems of production and marketing are considered less embedded in social life and less inflected with local cultural meanings and identities. Yet capitalist economies are predicated on, and continue to interact with, these local social realms. The nature of capitalism's engagement with social life, and with the folk and moral economies so central to it, remains an open question, one I study empirically, by examining the changing mix of capitalist and other economies in particular ethnographic and historical sites.

Undeniably, the separation between capitalist and noncapitalist arenas, between market and nonmarket exchanges, is important in local worldviews and value systems. In Thailand, the shifting borders between capitalist and noncapitalist economies cause palpable public and individual anxiety. As with the tourist appreciation of old market forms in contrast with modern retail, Thais' experience of significant differences between economic modes depend not merely on actual systemic differences (and may ignore this level) but also on cultural values and modern ideologies. Tellingly, these borders are often symbolized through gender and sexuality, as is evident in the public judgment of sex workers, whose work blurs the divide between market and personal exchanges, a point I take up in chapter 2. The example of sex work conveys the importance of the intimate dimensions of people's navigation of capitalist development interacting with local economic systems.

In this book, I address pressing questions about the impact of the global economy on Thai sex/gender systems by following directions suggested by recent transnational and Western feminist theory. Fulfilling Gayle Rubin's call for "a political economy of sex,"22 scholars in feminist anthropology, geography, and other fields combine historical or material approaches with a committed attention to the symbolic dimensions of representation, discourse, and meaning. Accordingly, they situate the construction of gender and sexual identities in relation to systems of power that govern work, resources, mobility, authority, and so forth. This synthetic approach is well represented in work on island Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines) that studies contested gender meanings in factories, markets, households, and plantations.23 Recent work on women or gender systems in Thailand (located on mainland Southeast Asia) complements this approach.

Many authors have pointed out that capitalist development in Asia has relied heavily on women's work, for example, in offshore manufacturing industries (or "global factories").24 Thailand's economic growth has been underwritten by women's labor in raising rice and food, caring for families at home, selling goods in markets, and providing services for the tourist economy in restaurants, shops, and go-go bars.25 Women migrate to Bangkok and other urban centers to work in light manufacturing and in commerce and services, often in greater numbers than male migrants. In addition, in the 1960s to 1970s, U.S. military installations drew large numbers of village women into service work on bases and in rest and recuperation (R&R) areas, a practice that led to an enormous foreign sex trade.

Contemporary research on Thai gender systems investigates how state modernization projects and this economic development are transforming elite, peasant, and urban gender arrangements. Besides chronicling women's significant, but often officially neglected, labor in economic development, a number of studies have asked how industrialization, capital flows, and export economies in Thailand have specifically affected Thai gender systems, understanding gender as intersecting with class, ethnicity, and region. Ethnographers such as Andrea Whittaker show complex shifts underway in the provinces as women's material obligations as daughters, nurturing wives, and mothers push them into the market economy. Mary Beth Mills shows how young migrant factory workers from rural areas have experienced conflict between the demands of their villages and those of the city as they try to reconcile their roles as daughters and new cosmopolitans in navigating new work regimes and consumer possibilities. Other authors describe the ways Thai categories of sexuality and gender (e.g., male-to-female, third-gender kathoey) are transforming in relation to diffuse social and cultural transformations. Perhaps most discussed is the sex trade, particularly the trade for foreigners that expanded when the tourist industry burgeoned after the Vietnam War. I build on these studies in my investigation of the intimate economies of five market forms in Bangkok.26

The Intimate Economies of Capitalist Markets

The chapters of this book cover the rise of capitalist retail in the middle of the twentieth century to the expanse of the consumer economy during the economic boom of the 1980s and 1990s. Their juxtaposition captures the range and variation in the commercial and public life of Bangkok. In the hodgepodge of Bangkok, in the course of a routine day, people crisscross diverse commercial spaces and employ plural economic systems, ranging from spiritual offerings, to gifts, to commercial exchangesñsometimes in the very same site. Viewing multiple market venues provides a cumulative perspective of the intimate effects of global capitalism in the city.

Chapter 1 illustrates the growth of modern corporate markets in the postwar period through the example of the department store, showing how gendered ethnicity was involved in these transformations. The chapter uses a portrait of the Chirathivat family (nee Jeng until 1950), immigrants from Hainan who ran a small shophouse in Bangkok that paved the way for Central Department Store, which opened in 1957. I focus on the father and son who formed this company (with important family labor and resources), men who encapsulate the changing nature of the ethnic masculine role of Chinese businessmen, from the Chinese tao kae merchant to the "flexible" corporate executive.

From the late 1970s until 1997, the rapid growth in the economy was accompanied by a burgeoning tourist trade and a proliferation of shopping complexes so dramatic it was dubbed a retail revolution. These two developments in tourist and retail markets have centrally involved young women's identities in particular, as workers and consumers. In chapters 2 and 3 I investigate how the infrastructure of commodified exchange impacts their gender and sexual identities. The prostitution industry clearly combines market exchange with gender identities and sexual relationships. Chapter 2 centers on the small but well-known portion of the trade focused on foreign customers represented by the go-go bar. This discussion concentrates on the diverse exchanges that make up the trade and considers how these are implicated in sex workers' public and personal identities. In chapter 3, I consider the rapid proliferation of shopping malls in the 1980s. Malls provide infrastructure for a new cross-class consumer culture that facilitates different sexual and gender positions, including the role of tomboy, or tom. Both examples show how consumers' and workers' intimate relations are conducted through and shaped by modern markets and how this engagement is producing expressions of the female gender that contradict dominant norms.

As markets have changed with capitalist development, so has the occupation of selling. The work of marketing has become a modern and professional position, one contrasted with the old-fashioned market vendor or shophouse merchant. In chapters 4 and 5, I consider the class, gender, and sexual dimensions of the professional identities being ushered in by transnational corporations. In chapter 4, I discuss a marketing office in a successful Thai (or Sino-Thai) information technology company. Telecommunication represents a combination of local Thai companies, in this case Shinawatra, and transnational corporations, and this sort of modern market requires educated, cosmopolitan workers who can flexibly meld global and local culture and affiliations. In chapter 5, I look at the import of an American reinterpretation of old-time door-to-door selling in direct sales companies like Avon and Amway. While Avon, Amway, and their Thai versions promote professional images of their distributors, notably in the figure of the Avon Lady, Thai sellers' participation in these corporate institutions involves their own configurations of locally meaningful identifications and relationships that in some cases depart from the sleek commercial figures. These two chapters show how Thais' affiliations with transnational corporations involve gender and class identifications.

These five markets chart contradictory symbolic and social identities at play as capitalist market economies become the stage for more and more of daily life in Bangkok. They chronicle the ways that ethnic, gender, and sexual identities (composed through relationships) cross and separate multiple economies. Together, they provide a partial portrait of the ways that global capitalism is refashioning intimate life in Bangkok.


The research for this book centers on two years of fieldwork in Bangkok from December 1992 to January 1994 and observations made on visits ranging from 1988 to 2000. During my two years in residence, I lived in a neighborhood at the edge of Chinatown, the observations of which inform my historical discussion of Sino-Thai business families in chapter 1. Working part-time at a marketing office of the leading cable TV company provided a modern opportunity for "participant observation" in the classic sense. I also was fortunate to participate in several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including the lesbian group Anjaree and a multi-issue feminist organization, the Foundation for Women. I undertook most of this investigative fieldwork alone, without employing a research assistant, although I was aided greatly by friends and colleagues.

I began this project by observing the major market areas of the city. This provided a sense of how selling and shopping work and a "map" of consumption in the city. On the basis of this survey and with questions concerning gender identity in mind, I selected some of the markets for study, although only later did it occur to me to include others, notably the go-go bars and the marketing office where I worked.

For a given market venue, I gathered background information about the history and infrastructure of the market, observed the site or practices involved, and conducted interviews (usually informal). Because this investigation is concerned with the form of markets, I spent some time identifying the infrastructure of a given venue, using an array of information sources including informal interviews, observations of behavior and architecture, material objects, and primary texts and secondary literature, especially the business press. Through these observations (filtered through my analytic questions about identity), over time I identified key intersections between the market's economics and features of social identity and relationships. My understanding of broader cultural discourses about market economies, folk economies, and identities in Thailand derives from synthesizing observations of public life with analyses of textual sources, including government media and popular culture.

Most of the people I interacted with were twenty to forty-five years old, reflecting both Bangkok's demographics and the nature of the markets I emphasize. Many of these subjects were of Chinese descent, as at least a third of Bangkok residents are, although they did not necessarily identify themselves as such. People's economic backgrounds varied, ranging from minor royalty to peasants, with residences ranging from old family estates to condos to slums. With the exception of sex workers, most of the people I discuss here were not poor, being involved in trade, office work, or professional employment.

I formally interviewed students, teachers, and advertising professionals, among others, about their consumption practices and use of markets. However, I did not find formal interviews with women very productive, especially for in-depth elaboration of experiences. I also shied away from formal interviews because of a sense of the hierarchical meaning of interviews in Thailand.27 For the most part, I relied on informal interviews and day-to-day conversations, in which I noted women's frequent and repetitive references to shopping and physical appearance and observed various vendors' sales pitches. Regarding language, I used both Thai and English with informants and associates and often a combination of the two, depending on the wishes and capacities of my interlocutors. The book rests on the understanding that people's practices create meanings, and so some of my material comes from observing such things as what women wear, how they move through commercial space, their interactions, and the like. This approach allowed me to gauge priorities, emphases, and values involved in social identities and relationships and to situate them in relation to various market venues.

The structure of this research differs from canonical ethnography in that it does not focus on one group of people in one locale but shifts across places and groups, a methodology known as multisited research.28 The different market sites required separate, if overlapping, research strategies tailored for each case, including library and archival research and participant observation. For example, chapter 1, as a historical discussion of the shift from the shophouse to the department store, relies primarily on archival and textual sources. Because the subject of prostitution has received an inordinate, and often unwelcome, amount of international attention, it presents one of the most fraught topics in commentary on Thailand. Studies of sex work risk reinforcing the stigma associated with workers in the trade, raising challenges that I address in my discussions in chapter 2.

Race, Economics, and Situated Ethnography

For some time now, anthropologists and feminist ethnographers have grappled with the question of how the investigator's own identity is implicated in her research. In this book, I attempt to acknowledge my presence where it is relevant to the material at hand. Yet the power relationship between researcher and subject, while undeniably significant for feminist scholars, is not in itself the subject of this book. Given that this book concerns transnational flows of capital and culture, however, it makes sense to consider how the national discipline of American anthropology and my presence as a white American anthropologist take part in these broader processes of globalization. There is the bare fact that the United States' great financial and political power underwrites U.S. citizens' ability to conduct research in less wealthy nations such as Thailand. Relatedly, my white identity situated me in a privileged position: white people receive favored treatment both subtle and obvious, a condition that benefits the tourist, businessman, and anthropologist.

International knowledge about Thailand, including ethnography, is produced in this asymmetrical transnational context. The often close links between studies of Southeast Asia and global geopolitics have been noted, especially in relation to U.S.-funded counterinsurgency research during the era of the Vietnam War.29 Anthropology's relation to capitalism has been less examined than its relation to state interests and racial or colonial dynamics. It seems possible that anthropological and business forms of knowledge overlap and interconnect. In Thailand, Western commercial writings are coterminous with the onset of major anthropological studies. Cornell University's pathbreaking anthropological studies of Thailand, for example, coexisted with other texts produced for Western consumption in the 1960s: travel books, U.S. military research, World Bank studies, and intelligence prepared for Western businesses.30 The cultural interpretations of anthropologists have informed the depictions presented in tourist guidebooks and business etiquette guides. Thus, my own production enters a populated field of English-language knowledge about Thailand, not only operating within but also partaking of the context of global capital.

In my research, I tried to avoid reproducing racial and national power relations by being aware of U.S. and first-world power and by participating in Thai NGOs, in some cases an ongoing participation that has lasted for years. I have attempted to resist reproducing colonialist or Orientalist approaches to knowledge in a number of ways: first, by beginning my early studies with a critical evaluation of Orientalist categories in Western discourse. Second, from my first trip to Thailand, I attended to, and was influenced by, Thai observers' research and analyses, both academic and activist. Third, I have tried to take account of the problems in representing less powerful "others." To this end, I embed discussions of potentially exoticized figures, such as butch tom or sex workers, within a spectrum of gender and economic configurations in an attempt not to sensationalize these marginalized identities. Finally, my choice to study the effects of global capitalism in Thailand is motivated by the recognition of similar processes underway around the world that incorporate the anthropologist herself, as much as any citizen of Bangkok, in their complex fold.

Following anthropological convention, I have used pseudonyms for individuals discussed, except for well-known public figures.


Introduction: Intimate Economies

1. M.S.S. Tour Trans Co. Ltd. = = en [accessed October 10, 2001].

2. In the 1990s, foreign investors looking for quick returns poured money into Thailand. Thai banks and well-placed businesses were flush with this money, which they often invested in massive construction projects, like shopping complexes and hotels oriented to a global consumer economy. This situation was later labeled a bubble economy, contributing to the Asian economic crisis of 1997, which originated in Bangkok's banking industry and spread across the region. Most of my fieldwork took place during the boom years of the mid-1990s; however, I visited Bangkok in 1998 and 2000 and draw on observations from those times in some chapters here. For more information about the crisis, see Ara Wilson, "Bangkok: Bubble City," in Wounded Cities: Destruction and Reconstruction in a Globalized World, ed. Jane Schneider and Ida Susser (Oxford: Berg Publishers, forthcoming).

3. The reference to the predominance of women in markets appears in an enormous number of works on Thailand, but some more in-depth studies include Napat Sirisambhand and Christina Szanton, Thailand's Street Food Vending: The Sellers and Consumers of "Traditional Fast Foods," Women's Studies Programme, Social Research Institute, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, 1986; and Preecha Kuwinpant, Marketing in North-Central Thailand: A Study of Socio-Economic Organization in a Thai Market Town (Bangkok: Chulalongkorn University Social Research Institute, 1980). One classic piece on the sexual division of labor in Thailand that points out women's prevalence in markets and sales (as opposed to government bureaucracy, for example) is Thomas Kirsch, "Buddhism, Sex-Roles, and the Thai Economy," in Women of Southeast Asia, ed. Penny Van Esterik, Northern Illinois University Occasional Paper no. 9 (Dekalb, Ill.: Center for Southeast Asian Studies, 1982), 16- 41. On markets and the female gender in Indonesia, see Suzanne A. Brenner, "Why Women Rule the Roost: Rethinking Javanese Ideologies of Gender and Self-Control," in Bewitching Women, Pious Men: Gender and Body Politics in Southeast Asia, ed. Aihwa Ong and Michael Peletz (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 19—50; and Suzanne A. Brenner, The Domestication of Desire: Women, Wealth, and Modernity in Java (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998). Certain types of markets and marketing systems involve more male sellersñfor example, Buddhist amulets and icons; prepared fruit stalls; wholesale produce markets at Paak Naam; stamps; junk markets, or "thieves markets."

4. James C. Ingram, Economic Change in Thailand since 1850 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1955); Katherine A. Bowie, "The Alchemy of Charity: Of Class and Buddhism in Northern Thailand," American Anthropologist 100, no. 2 (1998): 469—81.

5. "News for Nang and Nangsao," Bangkok World, June 16, 1963, 10.

6. An example of a tourist guide depiction of Chinatown is Steve Van Beek, Bangkok (Hong Kong: Insight CityGuides, 1988).

7. I am grateful to the University of California Press reviewer who suggested I include this example.

8. "Intimacy" has recently been employed as a rubric by a variety of authors. The title of a recent ethnography of northeastern Thailand by Andrea Whittaker is Intimate Knowledge: Women and Their Health in North-East Thailand (St. Leonards, NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 2000). Examples of critical theories of intimacy include Lauren Berlant's trenchant analysis of intimacy in relation to the public/private divide in U.S. culture (Lauren Berlant, "Intimacy: A Special Issue," in Intimacy, ed. Lauren Berlant [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000], 1—8). Her use of the term addresses a range of issues connected with the subjectivity beyond those conveyed by the term identity. For the changes in concepts of intimacy with modernity, also see Anthony Giddens, The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love & Eroticism in Modern Societies (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1992). One exploration of gendered exchange in the classical period is Victoria Wohl, Intimate Commerce: Exchange, Gender, and Subjectivity in Greek Tragedy (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997). Intimate in my use is meant as an umbrella term to allow for the exploration of "private" issues in "public" economic spaces, including but exceeding those connected to gender or sexual identity.

9. This project draws on an enormous body of theoretical and empirical discussions of the ways that categories and locations either assigned to or adopted by people are defined by historically and culturally specific discourses and practices. Most work on Thai gender adopts an intersectional approach, for example, recognizing the importance of region and class, and stresses the social dimensions of self-perceptions and public categories rather than intrapsychic dimensions, such as those that inform much scholarship on erotic desires and identifications.

10. Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Elementary Structures of Kinship, revised ed., ed. Rodney Needham, trans. James Harle Bell and John Richard von Sturmer (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969); Gayle Rubin, "The Traffic in Women: Notes on the Political Economy of Sex," in Towards an Anthropology of Women, ed. Rayna Rapp [Reiter] (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975), 157—210; Marcel Mauss, The Gift (New York: Norton, 1967); Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time (1944; Boston: Beacon Press, 1957); Paul Bohannan, "The Impact of Money on an African Subsistence Economy," Journal of Economic History 19 (1959): 491—503.

11. On the moral economy, see E.P. Thompson's landmark work, for example, the discussion of the term in Customs in Common (New York: New Press, 1993). For the ways capitalism changes the social codes of the market in Europe, see Polanyi, The Great Transformation.

12. Thongchai Winichakul, Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation (Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 1992).

13. On the interactions between the monastic order and the laity in Thailand, see the classic monographs by S.J. Tambiah: World Conqueror, World Renouncer: A Study of Buddhism and Polity in Thailand against a Historical Background (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), and The Buddhist Saints of the Forest and the Cult of the Amulets (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984); also see S.J. Tambiah "The Galactic Polity: The Structure of Traditional Kingdoms in Southeast Asia," Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 293 (1977): 69—97. On merit, see, for example: Jasper Ingersoll, "Merit and Identity in Village Thailand," in Change and Persistence in Thai Society, ed. G.W. Skinner and A.T. Kirsch (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1975), 219—51; HP. Phillips, Thai Peasant Personality (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966); Charles Keyes, "Mother or Mistress but Never a Monk: Buddhist Notions of Female Gender in Rural Thailand," American Ethnologist 11, no. 2 (1984): 223—39.

14. Darunee Tantiwiramanond and Sashi Pandey, "The Status and Role of Thai Women in the Pre-Modern Period: A Historical and Cultural Perspective," Sojourn 2, no. 1 (1992): 141.

15. Marjorie M. Muecke, "Make Money Not Babies: Changing Status of Northern Thai Women," Asian Survey 24, no. 4 (1984): 464.

16. My portrait of Thai women as economic agents is not found in the dominant Thai cultural vision of gender, which stresses attractive feminine appearance and comportment and the role of the "housewife" (increasingly associated, in the Western fashion, with consumption rather than with the managerial role of the mae baan, the "mother of the household"). Symbolically, the figure of the market woman represents a rustic, low-class position, and "market Thai" is considered a vulgar mode of speech. The dominant model of gender derives at least in part from the aristocracy, where the most elite wives and daughters did not engage in work or trade. The formation of modern Thailand popularized a model of gender from Siamese elite and European and East Asian gender symbolism, to define Thai "culture" in ways that obscure women's economic and community roles. But the history and customs of rural Thai society suggest something else: markets hold particular significance for peasant and working-class Thai women and remain class-inflected and gendered spheres.

17. See Wilson, "Women in the City of Consumption: Markets and the Construction of Gender in Bangkok, Thailand," Ph.D. diss., City University of New York Graduate School, 1997, for elaboration of this point (introduction and chapters 1 and 2).

18. For the diversity of historical Bangkok, see Akin Rabibadana, "The Organization of Thai Society in the Early Bangkok Period, 1782—1873," Southeast Asia Program, Data Paper 74, Cornell University, 1969; Charles Keyes, Thailand: Buddhist Kingdom as Modern Nation-State (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1987). The Mon people are Theravada Buddhist, like most Thais. Indian migrants to Siam were known to be Bombay Indians, "Kling," Makassarese, Sikhs, Bengalis, Tamils, and Gujaratis (see Abha Bhamorabutr, The History of Bangkok [Bangkok: Mr. Somsak Rangsiyopas, publisher; printed at Department of Corrections Press, 1982]; and Zakir Hussain, The Silent Minority: Indians in Thailand [Bangkok: CUSRI, 1982]). The "Indian" community lived in the Pahurat area of Chinatown, built over a former Vietnamese (Yuan) quarter. The ethnic mix varied in other regions of the country; in northern Thailand, for example, the Chinese male traders were of different ethnicities from those in Bangkok. They were the Yunnanese (Haw, in Thai) and Han Chinese, who migrated overland to trade with the northern Thai (see, e.g., Ann Maxwell Hill, Merchants and Migrants: Ethnicity and Trade among Yunnanese Chinese in Southeast Asia, Yale University Southeast Asia Studies Monograph no. 47, 1998, 54; Michael Moerman, "Chiangkham's Trade in the 'Old Days,'" in Change and Persistence in Thai Society, ed. William Skinner and A. Thomas Kirsch (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press 1975], 151—71).

19. See Moerman, "Chiangkham's Trade," for long-distance trading by northeastern men.

20. Jiemin Bao argues that discussions of the Chinese role in the Thai market economy tend to erase Chinese women's household and business labor. (Jiemin Bao, "Marriage among Ethnic Chinese in Bangkok: An Ethnography of Gender, Sexuality, and Ethnicity over Two Generations," Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1994).

21. Work presenting varying interpretations of the relationship between capitalist market economies and other economies (noncapitalist, folk, moral) includes: Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation; J.K. Gibson-Graham, The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It) (London: Blackwell Publishers, 1996); and Bohannan, "The Impact of Money." Drawing firm conclusions about the nature of capitalist market economies' interaction with other economiesñwhether they form an overarching global system for capitalist accumulation, or multiple capitalisms, or some other configurationñis beyond the scope of this project.

22. Rubin, "The Traffic in Women."

23. Aihwa Ong, Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline: Factory Women in Malaysia (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987); Ong and Peletz, eds., Bewitching Women, Pious Men; Ann Stoler, "Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Gender, Race and Morality in Colonial Asia," in Gender at the Crossroads of Knowledge, ed. Micaela di Leonardo (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 51—101; Anna Tsing, In the Realm of the Diamond Queen (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993).

24. The many discussions of women's labor in Southeast Asia's capitalist development include Amara Pongsapich, ed., Women's Issues: A Book of Readings (Bangkok: CUSRI, 1986); Noeleen Heyzer, Working Women in South-East Asia: Development, Subordination and Emancipation (Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1986), 424—51; Linda Lim, "Women Workers in Multinational Corporations," Michigan Occasional Papers in Women's Studies, Women's Studies Program, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1978; Aihwa Ong, "Center, Periphery and Hierarchy: Gender in Southeast Asia," in Gender and Anthropology, ed. Sandra Morgen (Washington, D.C.: American Anthropological Association, 1989), 294—312; and Aihwa Ong, "The Gender and Labor Politics of Postmodernity," Annual Reviews of Anthropology 20 (1991): 279—309.

25. A recent ethnography on gender and the industrializing economy in Thailand is Mary-Beth Mills, Thai Women in the Global Labor Force: Consuming Desires, Contested Selves (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1999).

26. For studies on Thai gender systems in context of modernity, see: Mary-Beth Mills, "Attack of the Widow Ghosts: Gender, Death, and Modernity in Northeast Thailand," in Bewitching Women, Pious Men, ed. Ong and Peletz, 244—73; Penny Van Esterik, "Deconstructing Display: Gender and Development in Thailand," Thai Studies Project/WID Consortium paper no. 2, York University, , Toronto, 1989. On sexual and gender categories, see: Peter A. Jackson, Male Homosexuality in Thailand: An Interpretation of Contemporary Thai Sources (New York: Global Academic Publishers, 1989); Rosalind C. Morris, "Three Sexes and Four Sexualities: Redressing the Discourses on Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary Thailand," positions 2, no. 1 (1994): 15—43. Other examples are found in anthologies, including Peter A. Jackson and Gerard Sullivan, eds., Lady Boys, Tom Boys, Rent Boys: Male and Female Homosexualities in Contemporary Thailand (Binghamton, N.Y.: Harrington Park Press, Haworth Press, 1999), 1—28.

27. The research challenges and linguistic dimensions of formal interviewing are laid out in Charles L. Briggs, Learning How to Ask: A Sociolinguistic Appraisal of the Role of the Interview in Social Science Research (London: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

28. On the rise of "multisited" ethnographic research, see Michael M.J. Fischer, "Emergent Forms of Life: Anthropologies of Late or Postmodernities," Annual Review of Anthropology 28 (1999): 455—78.

29. Eric Wakin, Anthropology Goes to War: Professional Ethics and Counterinsurgency in Thailand (Madison: University of Wisconsin/Center for Southeast Asian Studies, 1992).

30. For examples of the Cornell studies, see G.W. Skinner and T. Kirsch, eds., Change and Persistence in Thai Society (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1975). Private market research began in the 1960s, providing information such as Business Research's 1966 consumer profile of Bangkok. For an intriguing 1960s travel book, I recommend glancing at an unusually homoerotic 1968 account of Bangkok: James Kirkup, Cities of the World: Bangkok (London: Phoenix House, 1968).

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