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Beyond the Assimilation Fixation: Skinner and the Possibility of a Spatial Approach to Twentieth-Century Thai History

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image of Journal of Chinese Overseas

G. William Skinner's early work on the Chinese of Thailand anticipated the spatial concerns that he later brought to the study of Chinese history. The present article revisits Skinner's 1957 classic “Chinese Society in Thailand” to highlight its overlooked spatial dimension and its emphasis on the role of Chinese in patterns of spatial change in Thai history. It then applies the formal approaches pioneered in Skinner's work on spatial dimensions of Chinese history to the Thai case. A two-factor regional-systems model for twentieth-century Thailand is developed in explicit imitation of Skinner's modeling of China's “macroregions.” The model illustrates long-term trends toward the tighter integration of Thailand's Bangkok-centered national-level regional system, the importance of numerous patterns of more local spatial change, the significance of extra-systemic influences on the system, and the role of Chinese as significant participants and agents in each of these processes. Results also suggest the need for further work on spatial dimensions of modern Thai and Southeast Asian history and on the role of Chinese as agents of spatial change in the region.


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