Semicoloniality, Translation and Excess in Thai cultural Studies

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    Increasing numbers of students of Thai history and culture are turning to varieties of critical theory to respond to the limitations of the empiricist methodologies of classical Thai area studies. These diverse theoretical appropriations constitute a critical project of Thai cultural studies that seeks to deconstruct essentialist readings of Thai culture, Thai identity and Thai nation by revealing the genealogical origins of these notions as contingent products of historical projects of power. Thai cultural studies resists narratives of Thai uniqueness, drawing on comparative theoretical frames such as post-structuralism and post-colonial analysis in order to read Thai history alongside rather than in isolation from the histories of other countries. While these critical methodologies have the potential to open up exciting new lines of inquiry in Thai history and culture, there is nevertheless a risk that unreflective applications of theory may perpetuate Euro-Amerocentric analyses. Thai cultural studies needs to be built upon a practice of translation that takes into account the ways that power imbalances between Western analytical discourses and Thai cultural logics may systematically distort forms of knowledge. Insufficient attention to the technical requirements of translating between Thai and Western languages and discourses, respectively, may lead to theory erasing the specificity of Thai cultural logics. A case study is provided of the analytical tensions that may result from a deficient practice of translation in Thai studies. It is concluded that accounts of Thailand's supposed 'excessiveness' point to the limits of current theory in fully accounting for modern Thai cultural logics and indicate the need for further theoretical development.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)7-41
    JournalSouth East Asia Research
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2005


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