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The Intimate Economies of Bangkok

The Intimate Economies of Bangkok: Tomboys, Tycoons, and Avon Ladies in the Global City

Ara Wilson
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnd8z
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  • Book Info
    The Intimate Economies of Bangkok
    Book Description:

    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 Bangkokis 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93743-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. NOTES ON TRANSLITERATION AND DATES
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. INTRODUCTION: Intimate Economies
    (pp. 1-28)

    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 knick-knacks....

  7. CHAPTER ONE From Shophouse to Department Store
    (pp. 29-67)

    Thailand’s first full-fledged department store is said to be Central Department Store, which opened in an area of Chinatown in the mid-1950s and remains one of Thailand’s leading companies.¹ It was founded by, and is still operated by, the Chirathivat family (who were known by the name “Jeng” until that decade), an immigrant family of humble Chinese origins.

    The department store is a specific form of selling, a highly centralized institution offering a wide range of goods and services organized into discrete departments. This mode of retail originated in Europe in the mid–nineteenth century, one of the earliest examples...

  8. CHAPTER TWO The Economies of Intimacy in the Go-Go Bar
    (pp. 68-101)

    When outsiders comment about gender in relation to Thailand’s economic development, what they most often note is the sex industry, a trade that has historical roots but has grown and transformed as a result of Thailand’s modernization projects and transnational forces. This chapter investigates Bangkok’s prostitution industry for foreigners,farang(Westerners) in particular, which is only a small corner of the large “market” for sexual services in Thailand but has attracted the most attention.¹

    The use ofmarketfor the sex trade is often a metaphor, invoking a large (even global) trade in women. By juxtaposing this trade with department...

  9. CHAPTER THREE MBK: The Retail Revolution and the Infrastructure of Romance
    (pp. 102-132)

    On my first visit to Thailand, I was struck by the frequent sight of boyish or mannish women. I wrote in my notes, “What are all these Thai women with short hair, cigarettes, and men’s shirts?” The term for these women, I learned, is tom. The wordtomcommonly conveys the English meaning of tomboy, although it has a wider meaning than the English, including adult women and also more explicitly lesbians.Tomrefers to a girl or woman who adopts male clothing, demeanor, or appearance—females who enact a female masculinity and at times a transgender female-to-male identity.¹ (Not...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR The Flexible Citizens of IBC Cable TV
    (pp. 133-162)

    In January 2001, a prominent businessman and politician, Police Lt. Col. Thaksin Shinawatra, Ph.D., was elected prime minister as head of the Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thai) Party. Thaksin (or Taksin) Shinawatra, with his wife, founded one of the largest and most powerful telecommunication empires in Asia in the 1980s, the Shinawatra Computer and Communications Group (SC&C), generally known as Shinawatra. Among its many subsidiaries was a subscriber television company known by three English initials, IBC. During a year of IBC’s boom-era growth in the early 1990s, I worked part-time at its marketing office. This site offers a view...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE The Avon Lady, the Amway Plan, and the Making of Thai Entrepreneurs
    (pp. 163-188)

    In the IBC marketing office discussed in the last chapter, there was a woman, Suranee, whose job was to prepare the beverages for office workers and guests (ice water, instant coffee, hot tea made from iced tea mix, and cocoa) and who happened also to be an enthusiastic Amway distributor. Amway is one example of what is called “direct sales,” a hundred-year-old American merchandizing approach that has been spreading around the world. ¹ Through the course of living and doing research in Thailand, I encountered a number people who were or had been distributors for Avon, Tupperware, Mistine, Vienna, or...

  12. CONCLUSION: The Intimacy of Capitalism
    (pp. 189-196)

    These chapters have shown different intersections between intimate lives—personae, subjectivities, relationships—and the expanding capitalist economy in Bangkok. Through concrete examinations of department stores and shophouses, go-go bars and the sex market for tourists, shopping complexes, professional corporate marketing, and direct sales, these case studies reveal how the increasingly global market economy integrates and remakes social worlds, cultural meanings, and local economies in Bangkok.

    This book argues that the ongoing and dynamic interaction between market economies and intimate realms of life is critical to understanding how global capitalism involves and affects social life. Capitalist markets interact with other economies—...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 197-234)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 235-262)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 263-272)