The History of Thailand (The Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations)

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Social & Cultural Change in the Border Regions

Unfortunately, the negative perception of Isan is by no means limited to Thai people. Yingluck Shinawatra, his younger sister, was the Prime Minister from until In order to support my theory of Isan as subaltern and to demonstrate the viability of this framework as applied to music research, this section will outline the stages of progress within this method.

Gramsci divides the trajectory of this development into six stages: 1. Certainly, musicians still play traditional music on traditional instruments, but even the genres that have developed or adapted to suit modernized tastes retain the elements that are integral to their identity Kittiarsa Luk thung and lam sing discuss themes pertinent to the Isan lifestyle, ranging from the struggles of farming to political ideology, but they also make use of the phin12 and khaen in combination with Western guitars, keyboards, and drums Mitchell Traditional and local music has been maintained through the advent of recording technology and, more recently, the introduction of cellphones and other devices as personal music players and recorders in combination with the rise of the internet as a connected platform for sharing music.

In particular, homemade recordings retain the values of the subaltern group rather than those of the modern globalized or Central Thai group with their over-amplification of instruments, scratchy instruments, and rustic vocals Tausig An easy example would be the presence of provocatively 12 A pear-shaped lute with two or three metal strings. The head is often carved to resemble a naga, a mythical serpent.

Though lam and lam sing have never shied away from exploring sexual topics, they were not well received by more educated and urbanized audiences. However, when the performance is presented in the manner of a Western pop-rock concert, the sexualized elements of performance are wholly acceptable, because they are markers of the sort of cosmopolitan modernity the contemporary nation of Thailand strives for Kittiarsa Similarly, when artists produce music to fit the mould of the recording industry, they are following the artistic expectations laid out by the dominant group, whether they are politically or economically motivated.

These strategies mark a departure from strict participant-observation or comparative methods, but they still operate within the framework determined by the dominant group — in this case, the values of academic research and publishing take precedence over the values of the subaltern. More recently, the proliferation of online repositories like Monrakplengthai and Awesome Tapes from Africa mark the development of a new hegemony to control cultural flow.

Both of these sites were built by privileged outsiders with the objective of bringing this music to an audience of other privileged outsiders. They operate in a digital realm that has uneven access.

The history of Thailand (eBook, ) [maulentingsenly.tk]

Thus, social 13 Some recordings are targeted to regional audiences using regional styles. Therefore, a website for downloading music has less impact at the local level than at the international level. On the Awesome Tapes from Africa site, decisions about the presentation of information align with what I would describe as a hipster aesthetic. A grid of album covers on a white background makes up the main page; one can click on a cover to be taken to a page dedicated to that album.

There, it is possible to listen to the album or download it track-by-track or each side of a tape on a chic, modern platform. Both Monrakplengthai and Awesome Tapes from Africa share very little information about the recordings they are disseminating. Monrakplengthai usually sticks to a paragraph or two about the artist, where the recording is from, and the genre it belongs to, in addition to providing a transliterated title and track list. Awesome Tapes from Africa provides more idiosyncratic commentary and the track titles. Another problem arises when the economic impact of these projects is considered.

Both websites deserve to be commended for garnering mainstream attention for admittedly niche musical interests, but not without withstanding criticism for their role in perpetuating cultural hegemony to some extent.

The History of Thailand (The Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations)

Kitiarsa argues that lam sing has reinvented molam traditions into a modern source of entertainment that reflects a conscious choice on the part of Isan artists and audiences from within the framework of a Thai cultural system that values Western pop-rock Ibid. By retaining markers of identity in the song texts, namely the bawdier language and expressions and narratives of migration that tie the music to both molam and Isan experience, lam sing asserts Isan identity in a way that redefines the relationship between tradition and modernity away from being a linear movement from one to the other Ibid.

The lam has also been used in the political arena, challenging the norms of communication and the structures of power leveraged against the subaltern. During the s and s, pro-democracy politicians including Khaisaeng Suksai, an MP from Nakhon Phanom, used lam verses and melodies in the national Parliament to describe the suffering and social injustice the Isan people had faced for generations to supplement their emotional debates Kitiarsa With this meaning and usage in mind, lam sing can be considered a structure created by the subaltern, however partial or limited it may be.


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Within the field of ethnomusicology, initiatives, strategies, and actions are in place that are meant to assert the autonomy of the subaltern in the old framework. More specifically, the process of asking permission and seeking input and continued consent throughout the research process recognizes that power of the culture-bearing people.

Fortunately, the sixth and final stage, characterized by political formations that assert complete autonomy, seems within reach. Though some would argue that achieving catharsis would entail dissolving ethnomusicology as a discipline, I contend that research can still be conducted, though within a framework determined by those whose culture is being studied instead of one determined by the researcher. For example, a research project determined by the subaltern group in which the researcher played a supporting role — taking a backseat in the decision-making process of how research would be conducted, the aims of the research, and in the distribution of results — would achieve this goal.

In order to be rigorous and thorough, ethnomusicological research should strive to address the implications of the uneven distribution of power at all levels: from the researcher-subject relationship; as it plays out on a local, regional, or national level between different groups, whether those distinctions are ethnic, economic, or political; and within the context of the globalized cosmopolitan world. Explaining the power dynamics in contemporary Thailand illuminates the importance of supporting attempts at dismantling the hegemony that negatively affects people and their culture.

Human travel is governed by permission granted by the paperwork that is passports and visas, but culture, especially music, is not necessarily subject to the same rules and restrictions. Although I had to leave Thailand, I did not have to leave behind what I learned, or what I still wanted to learn. In this section I will trace a line of thought that addresses the need for permission and how to obtain it, first through documents and customs that directly address playing the khaen, and then in a broader academic framework.

The instrument lacks prestige, in part because it is thought that anyone can learn to play it Ibid. Today the khaen has found an enthusiastic audience on the internet, which I will fully address in Chapter 4. With audiences and performers uploading, listening, and interacting online, the khaen is less confined to its geographic region of origin and reaches a new, connected audience. He wrote: The situation has now changed. How who play in the beepat or mahori ensembles must sell their instruments because they are no longer hired.

Laokaen is always played for the topknot cutting ceremony and for ordinations. We cannot give the priority to Lao entertainments. Thai have been performing laokaen for more than ten years now and it has become very common.

The History of Thailand

It is apparent that whoever there is an increase in the playing of laokaen there is also less rain. This year the rice survived only because of water originating in the forests. In towns where there was much laokaen it rained only a little and there was little rice growing. Even though the farmers were able to plant rice near the end of the season, too much water from the forests destroyed the rice in floods.

Consequently the King now requests all Thai who remain loyal and grateful to him to stop performing laokaen. Please do not hire laokaen or perform it yourselves. Try this for a year or two. They should not be forgotten and finally lost. You are requested to stop performing 15 In this piece of writing laokaen refers to the instrument I have transliterated as khaen in other instances.

Try this for a year or two and see whether the amount of rain becomes sufficient again or not. Who is allowed to play what kinds of music?

source site What are the consequences for playing the wrong music? The king tried to address these questions: people living in the geopolitical region of the Kingdom of Siam should play Central Thai music or suffer by way of drought and crop failure.


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  7. Today the consequences for musicians are usually less grim, but as this chapter will explain, permission is still one of the first steps taken towards musical understanding. My initial source of permission came from the well-intentioned motivation expressed eloquently by John Miller Chernoff: To arrive at the point where one sees the life of another culture as an alternative is to reach a fundamental notion of the humanistic perspective, and to accept that one has become part of their history.

    On that bus ride, while I felt that what I was doing in Ghana would probably have no consequence, academic, financial, or personal, if I returned to the United States, I was ready to begin the kind of education I wanted to get in African music. When there was no reason for me to be trying to learn the music except for my love of it, and when in my training I realized through my personal self-consciousness that I could be socially and aesthetically criticized every moment for what I did, I began to understand what involvement with music meant in Africa.

    With these texts as support, it becomes 42 easier to see the possibility of carrying out fieldwork with the sensitivity and respect it demands, even amidst the doubts of an increasingly critical institutional or disciplinary environment. In the day-to-day life of fieldwork, I would posit that it is not just simpler, but more beneficial, to your results to remember to treat everyone around you well and find the joy in learning instead of trying to implement a rigid methodology that fails to acknowledge the individuality of moments and people. If these tenets — positive attributes like kindness, joy, love — govern the data-collection process, then it makes sense that they could be incorporated into an analytical framework and its subsequent application.

    Compared to hotspots like Bali or Ghana, mainland Southeast Asia is underrepresented in Anglophone ethnomusicological research.

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    The small number of English language sources should spur contemporary scholars to do the work required to understand the music of this region more fully, and the challenges posed by the criticism of earlier texts are not insurmountable. As a manual for musical instruction, it is written in French and English, indicating that its intended use would be by aficionados not capable of reading Lao text.

    In writing this book, Ratanavong is inviting others to join him and willing to teach those who opt in — another instance of permission. Its omission from Traditional Music of the Lao does not have to be interpreted as a slight against Lao scholarship, but perhaps serves to remind us to look for local sources that can serve as an entry point. First and foremost, it portrays a version of Thai music that is limited in scope to Central Thai classical music at the expense of other musical traditions of the country. Though many explanations of the development of the tuning system exist, one relates it back to the khaen.

    The scale was modified when a member of the nobility demanded the removal of large and small intervals in order to make the ensemble match his vocal range Garzoli The gap of information on music from other parts of Thailand means that there is room for more work to be done. Third, when Garzoli is discussing musical concepts that relate to intonation, he brings up a practice in Thai musical culture known as huang wicha, in which information is intentionally withheld, or false and misleading information is provided to those who are considered outsiders Garzoli 3.

    What these stories lack in veracity, they make up for with a sense of the importance gained through myth and the position of the teacher as an authority Ibid. To step away from philosophical orientations, the timeliness and specificity of the existing sources can be problematic, but it makes more sense to find a way to build off the foundation that texts like The Traditional Music of Thailand and Traditional Music of the Lao provide than to discard them entirely. Given the small number of English language sources devoted to Thai music, let alone Isan music, the information we have is valuable.

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    By extending the same gentle kindness that Chernoff and others endorse to these sources, their drawbacks can be reframed as opportunities on which to improve. Books like Seize the Dance! In his opinion, the bias towards socio-contextual centred texts based in a corrective stance is unwarranted, as they hinder certain options for progressive political application of the study of African music.

    In my reading of Scherzinger, three main themes emerged: structural power imbalances within ethnomusicology as a field of study, the role of politicized action within scholarship, and the concept of possibility. Each theme relates to permission differently, but all of them reinforce its central position within any method, while giving researchers permission to reach for loftier goals.

    To begin a discussion of the structural power imbalances present in ethnomusicological study, it is necessary to situate the researcher within the institution and in the world at large. The ethnographer occupies a position between the various objects of his or her study and within a 16 Although Scherzinger is writing about African music, the net can be broadened to include most, if not all, genres of non-Western music. If the researcher is sensitive to his or her position of relative power gained simply by being the person studying rather than the person who is being studied, but is not cognizant of the inherent social context contained within the aims of the discipline itself, then he or she is perpetuating a structural power imbalance.

    It is unfortunate, then, that there is a bias towards scholarship grounded in socio-contextual thought even when it omits the backwards glance towards scholarship that a fully reflexive account would include. One aspect of this structural power imbalance is the manner in which a broad category of music is confined to being studied in one very specific way.

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    Obviously, this reflects the unequal position of non-Western music in the university setting. As non-Western music is bounded within a dominant methodological framework grounded in the aforementioned socio-contextual perspective that prefers process to form, context to musical sound alone, totality to component parts, and the orientation of the student to the boundaries set out in discourse, aspects of the music go unstudied or remain understudied Ibid.

    There is another prevalent bias that sees attempts at portraying socio-cultural context as more sensitive than more musically-focused texts. What started as a corrective reaction to the global imperial order that privileges Western researchers and their status as knowledge producers, which ethnomusicologists would account for, has escalated and been skewed into something more sinister.

    To begin with, there is an unavoidable shadow of social context upon any formalist model used for analysis Ibid.


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