Reading Bangkok presents stories and meanings derived from the built fabric and spaces of Thailand's capital city. The narrative shifts from King Taksin's mostly forgotten but wondrous Thonburi to the tourist spectacle of Rattanakosin, Dusit and Ratchadamnoen (King Rama V's superficial emulation of an admired, imperialist Europe), Sukhumvit "Road" (consumer land), and the slums that are an integral part of the modern city.
The author structures the book around external intrusions and local resistance. Geographically, this process is seen in movement from centre to periphery (Thonburi, Rattanakosin, Ratchadamnoen, Sukhumvit, Ratchadapisek, Khlong Toei, the universities). Chronologically, the city underwent various forms of colonization: incorporation of the periphery, which in turn colonized Bangkok; the economic colonization of the 19th and 20th centuries; colonization by consumption brought on in large part by globalized tourism; colonization by the "better" ideas of others (typically from the West); and finally colonization by "better" ways of thinking - notably the intrusions of the universities and of popular democracy.
This exceptionally innovative study draws on urban planning and development, history, anthropology, and political economy, and a rich body of empirical data to provide insights into the maze of power relations, inequalities and global influences that is normally hidden from view. Reading Bangkok is that rare thing, a study that genuinely changes the way its subject is seen and understood.
Ross KING is Professorial Fellow in the Faculty of Architectural Building and Planning at the University of Melbourne, and from 1995 to 2002 was Professor and Dean in that Faculty. His current research deals with contested identities in Asian cities and the role played by urban planning, urban design and architecture. He is the author of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya: Negotiating Urban Space in Malaysia(NUS Press, 2008).