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Ambiguous Allure of the West, The

Traces of the Colonial in Thailand

Rachel V. Harrison, Peter a. Jackson

Publication Year: 2010

The book brings studies of modern Thai history and culture into dialogue with debates in comparative intellectual history, Asian cultural studies, and postcolonial studies. It takes Thai Studies in new directions through case studies of the cultural hybridity and ambivalences that have emerged from the manifold interactions between Siam/Thailand and the West from 1850 to the present day. Central aims of The Ambiguous Allure of the West are to critique notions of Thai "uniqueness" or "exceptionalism" and locate Thai Studies in a broader, comparative perspective by arguing that modern Siam/Thailand needs to be understood as a semicolonial society. In contrast to conservative nationalist and royalist accounts of Thai history and culture, which resist comparing the country to its once-colonized Asian neighbours, this book's contributors highlight the value of postcolonial analysis in understanding the complexly ambiguous, interstitial, liminal and hybrid character of Thai/Western cultural interrelationships. At the same time, by pointing to the distinctive position of semicolonial societies in the Western-dominated world order, the chapters in this book make significant contributions to developing the critical theoretical perspectives of international cultural studies. The contributors demonstrate how the disciplines of history, anthropology, political science, film and cultural studies all enhance these contestations in intersecting ways, and across different historical moments. Each of the chapters raises manifold themes and questions regarding the nature of intercultural exchange, interrogated through theoretically critical lenses. This book directs its discussions at those studying not only in the fields of Thai and Southeast Asian studies but also in colonial and postcolonial studies, Asian cultural studies, film studies and comparative critical theory.

Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU

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Foreword: The Names and Repetitions of Postcolonial History

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pp. vii-xvii

For quite some time now, the history of modern Thailand has remained a surprisingly closed book for most students of modern South Asia. Surprising, because Thai history provides an obvious, and almost text-book, study in contrast to South Asian history of the modern period. Thailand is another and proximate Asian country that has experienced the gravitational pull of Europe over all its questions and agitations to do ...

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pp. xix-xx

This volume represents part of the outcomes of a collaborative research project by the co-editors that was generously funded over a four-year period by the British Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). This international project could not have been undertaken without the Council’s support, both financial and in terms of research leave provision. Between 2002 and 2006, we undertook research visits to Thailand; presented ...


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pp. xxi-xxiii

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Note on Transliteration and Referencing

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pp. xxiv

There is no generally agreed system of representing Thai in roman script, and all systems have some limitations because the 26 letters of the roman alphabet are not sufficient to represent all the consonants, vowels, diphthongs, and tones of Thai. In this book we have adopted a modified version of the Royal Institute system of romanizing Thai. The system makes no distinction between long and short vowel forms; and tones are ...

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Introduction: The Allure of Ambiguity: The “West” and the Making of Thai Identities

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pp. 1-36

Reviewing the Tate Britain gallery’s 2008 exhibition of British Orientalist painting—“The Lure of the East”—Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif takes exception to the work of William Holman Hunt. She decries him for having come east primed with “an ideology and a fantasy to impose upon the landscape and the people.”² Her mistrust, echoing Edward Said’s monumental text, Orientalism (1978), is directed at the ways in which ...

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1. The Ambiguities of Semicolonial Power in Thailand

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pp. 37-56

Key questions addressed in this book are how culture, knowledge and identity have been produced in modern Siam/Thailand in relation to the global dominance of the West. Euro-American world dominance emerged in the nineteenth century after several centuries of growing Western influence on the world stage and, arguably, we are now entering an era when this supremacy is being challenged by the ascendance of China, India, Russia ...

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2. An Ambiguous Intimacy: Farang as Siamese Occidentalism

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pp. 57-74

In a recently released film, Thawiphop (The Siam Renaissance, dir. Surapong Pinijkhar, 2004), Manee, a young Thai woman from the early twenty-first century who has grown up and been educated in France, travels back and forth between Thailand’s postmodern present and Siam’s early modern past.¹ In a scene set in the nineteenth century, she responds to questions from two nobles at the court of King Mongkut (r. 1851–1868) by ...

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3. Competitive Colonialisms: Siam and the Malay Muslim South

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pp. 75-91

From the nineteenth century until the mid-twentieth, European imperial powers imposed legal and economic restrictions on Siam, as Thailand was called until 1939. These restrictions limited Siam’s sovereignty in ways that made it comparable to a European colony. Siam, from this angle, appears colonized. However, this comparison uncritically locates Siam as a victim of the West without questioning the aggrandizing activities ...

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4. Mind the Gap: (En)countering the West and the Making of Thai Identities on Film

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pp. 93-118

Fortuitously, perhaps, the injurious effects of “Paris Syndrome” have not been widely reported among the surge of Thai visitors that has graced the French capital in recent years. Nevertheless, the psychological intensity of “culture shock” to which “Paris Syndrome” speaks provides a timely lens through which to observe Siamese/Thai forays into the West, both past and present. This chapter opens with an examination ...

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5. Blissfully Whose? Jungle Pleasures, Ultra-modernist Cinema and the Cosmopolitan Thai Auteur

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pp. 119-134

Apichatpong Weerasethakul is a native of Khon Kaen in Northeast Thailand, a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago, and twice a Cannes prize winner. This unusual trajectory defines his auteur identity, and has led one US critic to dub his distinct film style “village surreal”, an epithet which marks him out from Bangkok contemporaries of Thai cinema. When his second feature Sut saneha/Blissfully Yours (2002) won the ...

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6. Coming to Terms with the West: Intellectual Strategies of Bifurcation and Post-Westernism in Siam

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pp. 135-151

One of the most troubling questions in Thai society since the nineteenth century has been how to deal with the farang, the Thai word for the West, Western, and Westerners (see the introduction, Herzfeld and Pattana in this volume). Over this period, the farang has been a temptation as well as a threat in the Thai imagination, a seductive but dangerous Other (Thongchai 2000b). To Thais of all social strata, the relationship with the West ...

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7. Wathakam: The Thai Appropriation of Foucault’s “Discourse”

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pp. 153-171

One of the first appearances of the now-accepted Thai translation of the term “discourse”, wathakam, was in a satirical article, “On the Discourse of Camelology”, published in a 1988 issue of the journal Jotmai khao sangkhomsat (Sociology News and Notes) (Anonymous 1988). This parody of Michel Foucault’s notion of discourse begins with a story about an international research team consisting of a Frenchman, an Englishman, ...

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8. The Conceptual Allure of the West: Dilemmas and Ambiguities of Crypto-Colonialism in Thailand.

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pp. 173-186

Any discussion of alleged Western influence in Thailand must start from the premise that the signifiers of globalization neither necessarily originate in the West nor automatically imply acceptance of Western values. Globalization does not always originate in Western countries; the definition of the “West” is itself problematic; and the assumption that adoption of multinational logos and designer goods must mean adoption of their ...

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Afterword: Postcolonial Theories and Thai Semicolonial Hybridities

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pp. 187-205

While Siamese/Thai culture, both historically and today, is widely recognized, at times even eulogized, for its pervasive syncretism, theories of cultural hybridity have rarely been used to analyse the patterns of cultural borrowing and fusion in the country. This is largely because accounts of cultural hybridity have emerged from and remain closely identified with postcolonial studies. As Marwan Kraidy notes, “Standing on the shoulders ...


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pp. 207-222


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pp. 223-251


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pp. 253-268

E-ISBN-13: 9789882205475
Print-ISBN-13: 9789622091214

Page Count: 292
Publication Year: 2010