Erik Stein

Date of Award

Spring 2008

Document Type



Sociology and Anthropology


This study explores the relationships between a village in Siam, the Siamese government, and European influences through time. 1 I became interested in the intersections between these three actors in a long series of readings, papers, and reflections on my way toward cultivating a thesis. I began with an exploration into swidden agriculture from a curiosity with different agrarian life ways. I read Lucien M. Hanks (1972), "Rice and Man", and altered my research to focus on the role of the state in one agrarian/fishing hamlet, Bang Chan. I was curious about how people conceive of governance, and what structures, roles, and citizens are imagined and created by states. To answer some of these questions I read James C. Scott's (1998) Seeing Like A State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, that provided a few conceptual tools to deconstruct state agendas and motivations. In a prior paper I took Scott's state simplification and legibility theories, discussed below, and analyzed these theories with respect to Lucien Hank's description of Siamese governance. The present study is an extension of that work. In this paper I explore what motivated the Siamese state to intervene into its populace throughout the 19th and into the 20th centuries, taking Bang Chan, Siam as my case study. I argue that the state was motivated to intervene into Bang Chan due to three factors. First, the state faced external, colonial pressures to modernize the country. Second, King Chulalongkorn and his entourage were fond of many aspects of European modernity and sought to reorganize the government along the lines of Britain's colonies. Finally, the state intervened into Bang Chan to make its populace legible and orderly for enhanced state capacities. I borrow the concepts of state legibility making and modernist ideology from James Scott's (1998) work to understand both colonial impositions on Siam and internal initiatives to intervene into Bang Chan. Scott provides a synopsis of modernist ideology pervasive in the minds and agendas of the 19th century colonial powers. Modernist ideology provided a vision and driving force both for colonial imposition on Siam as well as the state's intervention into its populace. Exploring Siamese state interventions and theories to comprehend what the Siamese state did and why adds to a body of knowledge about Western colonialism and its influences on the historical trajectory of non-Western places. A more general study of states allows for insight into lives within a nation. For instance, a study of state legibility would illuminate why states construct methods to settle people and discourage mobility without notifying the state apparatus. A study of states provides questions about the role of the state, and how life is structured, intervened into, and manipulated by central schemes. The following section presents Scott's concepts of state legibility and modernist ideology in further detail. I then discuss the background to the case study, colonial influences on Siam, the government's internal reforms, the state's interventions into Bang Chan, and legibility and order making. I conclude with a reflection on Scott's model in the 19th century Siamese context.