Modelling Thai Gender
We have reviewed the material conditions and ideological space for gender in Thailand, and located important sites of gender negotiations, including beauty contests, the sex industry and representations of women in Thai public culture. How do we integrate these disparate pieces into a framework for interpreting the complexity of the Thai gender system? Each provides a part of the story. But how are the parts related to each other and to the past? These examples call for integrated theories compatible with indigenous approaches to gender, rather than piecemeal ad hoc interpretations of isolated problems. This chapter develops a model or analytical framework for examining Thai gender.
The model is informed by a wide range of social science theory – some feminist or at least responsive to feminist theory. Theory is a very speculative frame of knowledge that draws us to ask certain questions and not others. We often assume that theory is totalizing, coherent and authoritative. But its power can be judged by its usefulness to guide analyses and critiques of previous theories that have claimed too much, gone too far, accepted without challenge or observation. Models help us ‘see the relatively simple in the intricate and the relatively clear in the vague’ (Scharfstein 1989:168).
When models simplify, they also erase differences. Returning to the metaphor of palimpsest, regional, religious and ethnic differences in gender models are not discarded and replaced by the dominant discourses of gender articulated at the center, but remain accessible in varying degrees to different classes and groups of people. When local models contradict national systems – which may often be the case with regard to gender ideologies – regional variations will probably be suppressed but not erased as has been the case in both the north and