PhD Student in Anthropology
Another Genealogy of Public: Red shirts protests and the anti-hegemony of privately owned public spaces in Bangkok.
This paper analyzes recent shifts of spaces of political protest in Bangkok away from traditionally political “public spaces” (phuenthi satharana) into privately owned spaces of consumption. In particular, I focus on the 2009 and 2010 red shirts protest and the roles that shopping areas came as both protective shields from state violence and liberated arenas from traditional institutional control, which so called “public spaces” carry in the Thai context.
The freeing potential of such spaces raises a provocation and invites us to question the hegemonic narrative of privatization of spaces and “tragedy of the commons.” While this historical progression provides an invaluable tool for the study of capitalist accumulation, it fails to account for the specificities of alternative regimes of land administration, such as the one present in pre-1932 Siam, where commons never had been a relevant legal category.
Recovering these specificities the paper explores how “publicity,” as a category of property, remained up to that point largely outside the Siamese legal cosmology. Collective spaces were referred to as ‘luang’ (great, royal) and thought to always have an owner, be that the royal institution or spiritual forces. Spaces owned by corporations but collectively used, in this context, do not radically differ from other so called ‘fully public spaces’, in which access and usage has always been mediated and policed by an hegemonic power. Moreover, during the red shirts protests, privately owned spaces offered political arenas away from traditional cosmologies of power –mostly related to the monarchy –which the uses of traditional ‘public spaces’ participate in preserving and reinforcing.