Year published :May 2011

Pages :292 pp

Size :15x23 cm.

Black & White illustrations :26

Rights :Southeast Asia

ISBN: 9789622091238

Ambiguous Allure of the West: Traces of the Colonial in Thailand, The

by Rachel V. Harrison and Peter A. Jackson

With a foreword by Dipesh Chakrabarty

The Ambiguous Allure of the West 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 .

The book critiques notions of Thai “uniqueness” or “exceptionalism” and locates Thai Studies in a broader, comparative perspective by arguing that modern 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.

By pointing to the distinctive position of semicolonial societies in the Western-dominated world order, the book makes significant contributions to developing 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. 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.

What others are saying

The Ambiguous Allure of the West finally and decisively pulls Thai Studies away from its long‐dominant introspection and focus on an alleged Thai exceptionalism and sites it firmly in mainstream comparative and theoretical contexts. Strikingly original in conception and sure‐footed in execution, this is an outstanding collection of essays.” — Ian Brown, Dean of Arts and Humanities, School of Oriental and African Studies, London.

“This excellent collection of essays represents a major advance in the application of Western postcolonial theory to the study of Asian history and culture. No other book is more successful at shattering the ‘uniqueness’ of Thailand, or of demonstrating the many ways in which Southeast Asia is comparable to the rest of the world.” — Tony Day is an independent scholar and co-editor of Clearing a Space: Postcolonial Readings of Modern Indonesian Literature (2002)


  • Examines the impact of Western imperialism on Thai cultural development from the 1850s to the present
  • Draws the study of Thailand into the critical field of postcolonial theory, illustrating how Thais have adopted and adapted aspects of Western culture and practice
  • Brings together Thai and Western scholars of history, anthropology, film, and literary and cultural studies to analyze how the Thai self has been shaped by traces of the colonial Other

About the Editors

Rachel V. Harrison is Senior Lecturer in Thai Cultural Studies at SOAS, University of London. She has published widely on issues of gender, sexuality, modern literature and cinema in Thailand and teaches related courses in these areas. Her research interest in comparative literature has led her to further focus on the relationship of critical theory to an understanding of contemporary Thai cultural studies. She is also the editor of South East Asia Research.

Peter A. Jackson is Senior Fellow in Thai History at the Australian National University in Canberra, where he specializes in the histories of Buddhism, gender, sexuality, and globalization in modern Thailand. He is a cofounder of the Asia Pacific Queer Network (, a collaborating general editor of the Hong Kong University Press “Queer Asia” monograph series, and editor-in-chief of the Asian Studies Review.

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Thailand | Asian cultural studies | intellectual history | anthropology | postcolonial theory