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1 The Ambiguities of Semicolonial Power in Thailand Peter A. Jackson1 Introduction: Postcolonial Analysis in Thai Studies 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. EuroAmerican 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 and Brazil. However, from the mid-nineteenth to the late twentieth centuries, the period covered in the following chapters, Euro-American economic, political and military dominance was the context within which Thai culture, Thai self-understandings (Thai identities) and forms of knowledge about Thailand (Thai studies) were all moulded. Postcolonial studies helps us understand Thai history and culture over this period because this form of critical analysis has grappled directly with questions of how the West’s dominance has impacted on culture, identity and knowledge in geopolitically subordinated societies. Postcolonial analysis is undoubtedly the most influential theoretical framework within which the theme of this book—the Asian gaze upon and relationship with the modern West—has been considered. Robert Young describes postcolonial analysis as re-imagining the relations between Western and non-Western peoples and their worlds by means “of theoretical structures that contest the previous dominant western ways of seeing things” (Young 2003, 4). Harry Harootunian describes this enterprise as the “true successor of area studies” (Harootunian 2000, 48), and among postcolonialism’s signature concepts Peter Hallward includes “the hybrid, the interstitial, the intercultural, the inbetween , the indeterminate, the counter-hegemonic, the contingent” (Hallward 2001, xi). More particularly, postcolonial studies provides a rich body of ideas for understanding the many forms of Thai-Western cultural and intellectual hybridity considered in the following chapters as effects of differences in power between a hegemonic West and a politically and economically subordinate Siam/Thailand. While a growing body of critical research on Thailand draws upon aspects of postcolonial approaches, the relationship between these methods and Thai studies nonetheless remains ambiguous. There are several reasons for this. On the one hand, 38 Peter A. Jackson nationalist historiography is based on the premise that the country was never a Western colony and within this conservative discourse the notion of a postcolonial analysis of “never-colonized” Siam is a non sequitur. The former colonial status of countries such as India, Mexico, Nigeria, the Philippines, and settler societies such as Australia, is an undisputed historical fact that forms the basis of postcolonial studies of these and other former colonies. In contrast, postcolonial studies of Siam/Thailand must do battle with a nationalist historiography that rejects comparing the country with its once-colonized neighbours. As Nopphorn Prachakul states in one of the first articles in Thai on postcolonialism, “Upon hearing the word ‘colony’ (ananikhom), many people probably think that that’s something old and long-gone. And amongst Thai people in particular the most common initial reaction is, ‘That’s not relevant to us. We Thai have never been anyone’s colony.’” (Nopphorn n.d., 156). Such views are not held universally. Critical scholarship in both Thai and English has long noted the country’s semicolonial status in the Western-dominated world order. As Nopphorn goes on to say, while Siam/ Thailand may not have been colonized this does not mean that the country was free from Western colonial influences (Nopphorn n.d., 156). Critical research contends that while the country remained politically independent, economically and culturally it followed patterns very similar to those of colonized Southeast Asian societies. Nevertheless, it remains the case that, with only a few exceptions (for example, Chaiyan [1994], Pattana [2005]), critical studies of Siamese/Thai semicoloniality have not engaged in explicit dialogue with postcolonial analysis. Craig Reynolds (1999), Thongchai Winichakul (2000a, 2000b) and Michael Herzfeld (2002) suggest this is because the “colonized” versus “colonizer” model that underpins postcolonial studies does not fully capture the complexity of the Siamese/Thai situation. While both conservative and critical schools of Thai studies scholarship find fault with postcolonial analysis, albeit for very different reasons, the field has much to gain from overcoming its isolation from what is arguably the most influential framework for analysing the relationship between modern Asia and the West. Postcolonial analysis of agency, subordination and ambivalence in the history of Siamese/Thai relations with the West would appear to be an especially fruitful field of inquiry, and...


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