BOOK REVIEW Thongchai Winichakul’s Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation (1994)

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Thongchai Winichakul. Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994.

In Thongchai Winichakul’s innovative mongraph Siam Mapped, the discourse of geography and the modern map directly produce the political territoriality, values, practices, and geobody that would later become the modern Thai nation. Thongchai demonstrates how indigenous concepts of space are displaced by modern geographic and mapping science. At the same time, local and indigenous concepts of space should not be evaluated through Western understandings of ‘scientific merit’ but understood to serve different purposes (such as traiphum cosmology).

The nation’s ‘geo-body’—its territory, practices, values—are discursively created through a two-way positive and negative identification. Thongchai argues that Siam actively tried to carve out a “we-self” space in light of European expansion and neighboring polities. “The creation of otherness, the enemy in particular, is necessary to justify the existing political and social against rivals from without as well as from within.” (167) His project also shows how the map is an instrument of ‘modern’ nation states and modern science: rather than the objective spatial representation, the map is a tool for exercising authority.In this way, Thongchai adds to Benedict Anderson’s idea of ‘imagined communities’ by examining the construct of nation through the technology of the map and spatial discourses.

These processes of creating the ‘geobody’ are described as the technology of territoriality—the attempt to influence and control people by delimiting control over a geographic area. Territoriality involves classification, communication by boundary, and enforcing the boundary. Overall, Thongchai demonstrates how the idea of ‘nation’ was defined through techniques of knowledge production and were constantly contested and relatively defined.

 

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