Thongchai Vinijjakul: The 'Thais educated aboard' as the transcultural interlocutors in the emerging environment of Thai and Asian Studies

There are more Asia studies poping-up around everywhere in Asia, and also more Asian students in Asia studies course in American universities. These people can be no longer called as the "outsider" as mentioning in "The Oriental" by Edward Said anymore. They are more "insider" than "outsider". So, all these factors altogether will reshape the context of both Asia studies and Thai studies.

Prof Thongchai Vinijjakul's brilliant talking about "Nakrian Nok" (นักเรียนนอก) -- the people who has graduated aboard. But actually, this word -- 'Nok" (outsider) has much more meaning. It means "western" , "alienate", and "not Thai". In some sense, it means "dangerous". For example, "Democracy" has been viewed as "alienate", and thus it's dangerous to implement in Thailand. But we have no question on Buddhism at all despite this was foreign idea as well (Indian religion).



Thinking about "The People Party" who staged the Siamese revolution in 1932, and the Thai elites at that time blamed the member of the people party as, of course, "Nakrian Nok". Since most of them had graduated aboard, i.e. Pridi from France, Marshall Piboonsongkarm from Germany, and so on.

But Prof Thongchai just satired by asking question that, "and how about people like King Vajiravuj and King Prajadhipok?" They were both "Nakrian Nok". King Vajiravuj as british Nakrian Nok had introduced Shakespeare and the modification of British ideology of "God, King and Country" into Siamese version of "Nation, Religion (Buddhism), and the monarchy". While King Prajadhipok's lingua franca is English, not Thai. But these two monarchs had not been viewed as Nakrian Nok at all.

While people who had never been Nakrian Nok as King Mongkut and Prince Damrong had pro-western than other "Nakrian Nok", despite they had never studied aboard.

Instead of using only "Nok" (outsider), or "Nai" (insider), Prof Thongchai by borrowing idea from "The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other" by Tzvetan Todorov to defining the type of scholars : (1) The Nativist (native promoter), (2) The sympathizer, (3) The scholar, (4) The critics, (5) The missionary, and (6) The colonizer.

He encourages to use this typology to make sense of the "complexity". He said "we need to spell out the complexity". Don't hide the complexity under the term complexity, just spell it out, and also "nuance"!

And he suggests that we can adapt this idea to conceptualize the Thai intellectual as follow:
(1) The pro-establishment, (2) The apologist, (3) The reluctant, (4) The critics of establishment, (5) The universal radical, and (6) The collaborative.

And he reapply it again with the "well-known" Thai intellectual or public figures as seen in the chart.



In this chart, which I like it, Prof Thongchai has labeled Abhisit as "an oxford graduate who never left Thailand", which means Abhisit has been viewed as "a so Thai" despite an oxford graduate, while Witt Suthisatian, a Thai who had graduated from the Philippines (perhaps in King Chulalongkorn era), was more farang (westerner) than farang. He wore suite in Bangkok and had smoked the cigar. While other intellectuals, despite aboard graduate, they had played the significant role on shaping the concept of the Thainess in someway.

By the way, "Nakrian nok" has lost its privilege for a while, since there are so many "Nakrian nok" nowadays. It has become as common word and losing privilege meaning.

In the end, he presented the changing landscape of both Asia studies and Thai studies, which used to be dominated by the American's view. Because of the influence of "area studies" under the backdrop of cold-war. But with no more cold-war, now both studies have transformed. There are more Asian studies poping-up around everywhere in Asia, and also more Asian students in Asian studies course in American universities. These people can be no longer called as the "outsider" as mentioning in "The Oriental" by Edward Said anymore. They are more "insider" than "outsider". So, all these factors altogether will reshape the context of both Asian studies and Thai studies.

He asked the question on for how long Thai academia to be incarcerated into their own separateness of the old knowledge amongst the changing of the landscape of the "outside" knowledge?

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