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Bangkok's Two Centers: Status, Space, and Consumption in a Millennial Southeast Asian City



Despite Bangkok's current incarnation as a globalized city of shopping malls and skyscrapers, indigenous concepts of power and space emphasizing center and hierarchy continue to pervade status differentiation in everyday social life. This is evident in tensions in the spatial-symbolic relations between Bangkok's politico-religious “old city” in Rattanakosin and the newer downtown consumption hub which emerged around the locales of Siam and Ratchaprasong, and highlights how urban and social transformations engendered by neoliberal market forces and embodied in downtown Bangkok's modern, consumerist milieu have mapped onto and exacerbated cultural logics of hierarchy drawn from much older notions of urban power and privilege in Southeast Asia. This produced modes of inscribing socio-economic inequality into space and a striking culture of status display uniquely shaped by the intersection of modern capitalism and Bangkok's distinctive culture and history of indigenous urbanism and suggests that understandings of space, power, and consumption in today's cities may benefit from a less Western-centric and more regionally sensitive conceptual framework.