Incendiary Central: The Spatial Politics of the May 2010 Street Demonstrations in Bangkok

by Sophorntavy Vorng

Working Papers WP 12-04
January 2012
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

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In May 2010, anti-government demonstrators created a flaming inferno of Central-World Plaza – Thailand’s biggest, and Asia’s second largest shopping mall. It was the climactic close to the latest major chapter of the Thai political conflict, during which thousands of protestors swarmed Ratchaprasong, the commercial centre of Bangkok, in an ultimately failed attempt to oust Abhisit Vejjajiva’s regime from power. In this paper, I examine how downtown Bangkok and exclusive malls like Central-World represent physical and cultural spaces from which the marginalized working classes have been strikingly excluded. It is a configuration of space that maps onto the contours of a heavily uneven distribution of power, and articulates a vernacular of prestige, wherein which class relations are inscribed in urban space. The significance of the red-shirted movement’s occupation of Ratchaprasong lies in the subversion of this spatialisation of power and draws attention to the symbolic deployment of space in struggles for political supremacy.

Sophorntavy Vorng received her PhD in 2009 from the Department of Anthropology, at The University of Sydney. She was a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Religious Diversity at the Max Planck Institute for Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Göttingen, Germany, from September 2009 to September 2011. Her research interests include consumption and stratification, social class and status, religion and political legitimation, the material and symbolic articulation of power relations in Southeast Asian cities, democracy and civil society in Thailand and Southeast Asia, and ethnographic methodology and social theory.

Bangkok, protest, space, class, politics, consumption, mall