restricted access Afterword: Postcolonial Theories and Thai Semicolonial Hybridities
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Afterword: Postcolonial Theories and Thai Semicolonial Hybridities Peter A. Jackson1 Introduction 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 of the disciplines that debated syncretism, mestizaje, and creolization, postcolonial theory repopularized the term ‘hybridity’ to explicate cultural fusion” (Kraidy 2005, 57). As I noted in my earlier chapter, Siam/Thailand’s lack of a colonial history means that ideas developed to reflect on the histories and present conditions of former colonies have not been taken up widely in Thai studies. Nonetheless, an increasing number of studies from a range of disciplines have shown, as Craig Reynolds observes, that “Thai society was subjected to similar if not comparable forces of change as the rest of colonized Southeast Asia” (Reynolds 1999, 265). In light of this work Reynolds suggests that, “[t]he notion of hybridity may also prove useful in articulating what is happening to the current Thai social formation. In turn, the insights gained may be fed back through the historical record to facilitate contrast with other colonized and semicolonized societies” (Reynolds 1999, 266). Pattana Kitiarsa (2005) has argued that the notion of hybridity provides a “conceptual tool to make sense of the changing landscape of contemporary Thai religion” (Pattana 2005, 466). The different forms of knowledge, culture, identity and power considered in the preceding chapters reflect the diverse processes at work in Thai-Western relations over the past two centuries. These studies show that there has been no single Thai response to Western dominance, but rather a multiplicity of appropriations, accommodations and resistances by diverse royal, elite, middle class and subaltern groups and individuals. Yet amidst this diversity certain patterns are nonetheless apparent and in this closing reflection on the ambiguous allure of the West in Siam/Thailand I draw on postcolonial theories of cultural hybridity to delineate some of the main forms of Siamese/Thai responses to the West. Postcolonial analysis is a richly complex field, reflecting the fact imperialism took different forms in different societies and has left widely varying postcolonial residues. 188 Peter A. Jackson While united by a concern with the ambiguous effects of racialized power imbalances in former colonial settings, each regional variety of postcolonial analysis has its own focuses that emerge from the distinctive forms of imperial power in those locations. This diversity among theories of cultural hybridity is helpful in mapping the broad range of Siamese/Thai responses to the West. The different local/autonomous and international/ subordinate dimensions of power in semicolonial Siam/Thailand that I outlined in my earlier chapter are reflected in different responses to the West, which in turn can be understood in terms of different theories of cultural hybridity. The two most influential postcolonial theories of cultural hybridity, presented by Homi Bhabha and Néstor García Canclini, each respectively emphasizes one dimension of the complex of semicolonial powers that have operated in Siam/Thailand. Bhabha has studied forms of hybridity in contexts of actual colonial subordination to the West, while García Canclini has outlined patterns of cultural hybridity in a postcolonial setting of relative political autonomy. At the local level of autonomous royal and elite power, I here compare García Canclini’s account of the hybrid mestizaje discourse of Latin American Hispanic elites as a mode of hegemonic rule to the nineteenth century Siamese elite discourse of siwilai (“civilized”). In contrast, at the international level in which Siam’s rulers were subordinate to the West, I draw on Bhabha to read siwilai as a hybrid discourse manifesting Thai elites’ subaltern resistance to Western imperialism. I also draw on Bhabha to read the richly hybridized popular culture of Siam/Thailand’s ruled classes as forms of subaltern resistance to siwilai, which was a discourse that bolstered the internal colonization of Siam by Bangkok’s ruling elites. Both Bhabha’s and García Canclini’s different accounts of postcolonial cultural hybridity are needed to explain all these patterns of Thai-Western cultural mixing. Bhabha’s and García Canclini’s separate analyses capture different moments of the multivalent processes of cultural mixing in the intersecting autonomous and subordinate dimensions of semicolonial power in Siam/Thailand. Their local histories of cultural...


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