IIAS Newsletter 46 Winter 2008

Refashioning civilisation. Dress and bodily practice in Thai nation building

Maurizio Peleggi

In spite of the nationalist claim to have escaped Western colonialism, Thailand (known until 1939 as Siam) was exposed to Western influences as much as colonial Southeast Asia. It is thus no surprise that portraits of King Chulalongkorn, (Rama V), dressed in western-style suit or uniform act today as signifiers of Thailand’s status as a modern nation. Becoming modern in the high imperial age, when nations were ranked according to social and technological progress, required not only the demarcation of territorial boundaries, the establishment of a civil service and standing army, infrastructures and public education, but also acceptance of Western standards of public decorum and self-presentation.

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