Manners as Cultural Capital in 1950s Thailand: A Study of Three Cultural Artefacts from the Writings of Santa T. Komolabutra.

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Date: Nov. 2021
Publisher: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS)
Document Type: Article
Length: 8,946 words
Lexile Measure: 1400L

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This article is concerned with the study of three manners-related cultural artefacts produced and circulated during the 1950s in Thailand. Together, these artefacts capture, literally and visually, a proposal for ideal manners for the emerging Thai urban middle class. The article argues for the recognition of everyday commodities in the accumulation and display of good manners, emphasizing the moment of unification between the embodied and the objectified states of cultural capital. In so doing, the article highlights the link between manners and consumer capitalism. It also discusses how the imposition of Thai morality on modern consumption was instrumental in effecting politico-economic change in that era.

Keywords: Thailand, manners, cultural capital, modern products, everyday life.

In the introduction to his book on etiquette, Khumue sangkhom (Socializing manual), Santa T. Komolabutra, writing under the pseudonym 'Nai pasa\ stated that he aimed to present the work to people of all classes. He reasoned further that

It is presently possible for people from one group to reach the stage upon which they would come to socialize and integrate with another group. A person no one has ever heard of may suddenly rise to a high position. Vice versa, someone in a high position may fall to the lowest pit, it may depend on wisdom, achievements, fate or--to say it bluntly--chance.

Therefore ... 1 beg to present this work to people of all classes, who are already in the high position and wish not to fall down to the lower place and to those who are in the lower place but willing to step up and become equal to others in society. (Nai pasa 1966, preface)

The above passages bring to mind characters from Santa's novel Setthi anatha (The poor millionaire), first published in 1953. This novel tells the story of Jon Bangkolaem, a poor wheel greaser at Hua Lam Phong train station. One night, Jon chances upon Praphon, an unhappy millionaire, who offers him a fortune of ten million baht on the condition that Jon spends the entire sum within a year. (1 ) Overnight the lives of Jon and his family are upended; they are to dress, behave and live differently. Although the plot is improbable and far from unique, the radical transformation of the Bangkolaem family enabled Santa to discuss modern manners. For its Thai audience, the story reflected social change in everyday life in the 1950s. With the possibilities of rapid social mobility and class expansion, there was an urgent need for new criteria to gauge one's merit. Accordingly, Santa proposed that no matter how one came to their position, in the final analysis it should be their manners that would sustain or break them.

This article investigates three cultural artefacts from the 1950s relating to manners and the works of Santa T. Komolabutra. These are (1) Kritsana son nong: Naenam marayat thi ngam haeng or ay a samai (Kritsana's instructions to little sister: An introduction to the fine manners of the civilized period), a Thai language manners book based on...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A688815140