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Thailand in a Larger Universe: The Lingering Consequences of Crypto-Colonialism

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Abstract

The present parochialism of Thai studies, although partial, suggests parallels with the situation of Modern Greek studies in the early 1970s. The cultural and political conditions attendant on both in the respective time periods—especially the prudery, emphasis on bourgeois notions of respectability, and restrictions on the scope and content of scholarship—suggest that a comparative framework, already emergent, would benefit both Thailand and Thai studies today. Thailand and Greece both represent conditions of “crypto-colonialism,” in which the combination of adulation and resentment of powerful Western nations produces a distinctive set of attitudes. Important cultural and political consequences flow from this shared condition, as is also contrastively demonstrated by the two countries’ very different recent histories. For example, censorship, once deeply intrusive but now virtually nonexistent in Greece, was instantiated by absent voices and official surveillance at the Thai studies conference at which this article was originally presented. A defensive posture, such censorship exposes an underlying sense of political weakness and cultural embarrassment.

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