Smoothing Subversion: Silk as Political Strategy in Modern Thailand
THAILAND STUDIES PROGRAMME
About the Seminar
Silks have been woven in Thailand for over 1000 years. Historically, they were important tributary gifts exchanged among kingdoms; the choice of cloth bestowed rank upon recipients in an embodiment of political and social hierarchy. Today, silk is a powerful symbol of “Thainess”, the Thai royal family, cultural heritage, and fashion. Throughout the past century, different actors have initiated revivals to “save” silk production. These revivals contribute to silk’s layered significances while also revealing the political and ideological stakes of the material’s endurance. This seminar explores the roles that silk and sericulture played during the Cold War period, highlighting the ways that silks were integrated into counterinsurgency and rural development projects such as the Self-Help Settlement communities established across provincial Thailand. These efforts represented smooth strategies intended to domesticate “rough” populaces, and their effects linger in the present. Silk making is a realm through which diverse and often conflicting identities are realized – but only some of these identities are ultimately recognized and valorized. The relationships that silk producers of distinct ethnolinguistic, sex/gender and class backgrounds cultivate through practices of silk making and weaving nevertheless persist as alternatives to silk’s normative, royalist regime.
About the Speaker
Alexandra Dalferro is Visiting Research Fellow in the Thailand Studies Programme, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. She earned a doctorate in anthropology at Cornell University with a dissertation exploring the histories, politics and practices of silk making in Thailand. This project reflects her interests in material and visual culture, sex/gender in Southeast Asia, and social hierarchy and inequality. In July 2022, she will join the faculty of NUS College.
This is a hybrid event which will be held at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute (ISEAS).
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