The Ambiguous Allure of the West

Traces of the Colonial in Thailand


Edited by Rachel V. Harrison and Peter A. Jackson

ISBN : 978-962-209-123-8


January 2010

292 pages, 6″ x 9″, 26 b&w illus.

Not for sale in Canada, the USA, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, Vietnam, or the Philippines

  • HK$195.00

Also available in Hardback HK$395.00

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.

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 AsiaPacifiQueer Network (, a collaborating general editor of the Hong Kong University Press “Queer Asia” monograph series, and editor-in-chief of the Asian Studies Review.

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)