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The Cleaners You Aren’t Meant to See: Order, Hygiene and Everyday Politics in a Bangkok Shopping Mall

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Although thousands of rural Thai migrants to Bangkok are employed as janitors, to date little research has been conducted on this industry. This paper addresses this lacuna by providing a detailed ethnography of working practices among cleaners in a Bangkok shopping mall, focusing upon how ideas of hygiene, order, and discipline are used to construct a “modern” janitorial workforce. The paper discusses the significance of these qualities in terms of a broader plan to “civilize” rural Thais, itself part of a wider project to foster rapid economic growth and bring global recognition to Thailand. Finally, by focusing on the small freedoms they seek as part of a “hidden transcript” of everyday resistance, the paper considers the cleaners’ responses to attempts to “modernize” and “civilize” them through rules aimed at limiting their movements and proscribing their behaviors in the mall.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Brighton, UK;, Email:

Publication date: 2006-06-01

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