Matthew Reeder | Center for Southeast Asian Studies Kyoto University

Matthew Reeder

Matthew Reeder
Research Departments・Position
Social Coexistence
Visiting Research Scholar
Area
History, Thailand, identity
Research Interests / Keywords
Ethnic identification, politics of dress, knowledge production, borderlands
Contact
mreeder@nus.edu.sg

Matthew Reeder

Legibility in Ink: Tattoos, Identification, and Labor Control in Nineteenth-Century Siam

My project examines the tattoo as a technology of labor control in Siam (Thailand). Throughout the nineteenth century, agents of the Thai state forcibly tattooed male commoners with personal or group identity information to facilitate taxation, conscription, and corvée. While Thai subjects were the initial targets, King Rama III (r. 1824-1851) and his successors soon turned their attention to marginal groups such as mobile highland communities, secret society convicts, and borderland peoples whose loyalties were, at best, divided. By marking these liminal individuals with visual symbols of identity like Chinese characters or red elephants, the state at once claimed these marginal populations as their own and marked them, indelibly, as outsiders. So, the project highlights the contested process of human boundary-making in an emerging nation.