Beyond Cosmopolitanism and Nationalism: Diasporic Chinese and Neo-Nationalism in China and Thailand


This article highlights the dynamic interaction between Chinese, Thai, and Sino-Thai identity construction, on the one hand, and the mutual production of domestic and international politics, on the other. It questions how nationalism and cosmopolitanism are formulated by arguing against the popular notion that a diaspora is a cosmopolitan community situated in a foreign nation. Diasporic public spheres are critically examined to show how Sino-Thai identity is produced in relation first to neo-nationalism in Thailand and China, and second in specific contexts within Thailand that call into question essential notions of Thai, Chinese, and overseas Chinese identity. Diasporas thus both construct and deconstruct the seemingly opposing forces of nationalism and cosmopolitanism. The article uses the ethnographic approach of anthropological constructivism to build on sociological constructivism s focus on national identity, norms, and formal institutions. Rather than looking to culture as a substance, the article highlights how culture takes shape in context-sensitive relations between identity and difference. This ethnographic approach encourages one to look in different places for world politics, shifting away from state actors to transnational nonstate actors, from geopolitics and international political economy to economic culture, and from law and institutions as the foundations of international society to the less formal organizations of the diasporic public sphere. Diaspora thus not only adds new data to arguments about global local relations it helps one question the structures of world politics that look to the opposition between cosmopolitanism and nationalism.This research was funded by a generous grant from the British Academy (South-East Asia Committee) and was facilitated by the hospitality of Harvard University s Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, the University of Hong Kong s Centre of Asian Studies, and the University of Mahasarakham. I would like to thank Sumalee Bumroongsook and Teera Vorrakitpokatorn for their research assistance. I have received helpful comments from IO s editors and reviewers, Mark Aspinwall, Chaiwat Satha-Anand, Kevin Hewison, Liao Shaolian, Liu Hong, Somchai Phatharathananund, Sumalee Bumroongsook, Suwanna Satha-Anand, Duncan McCargo, Suparat Lertphanichkul, Thavesilp Subwattana, Thongchai Winichakul, Wang Gungwu, Stephen Welch, and John Williams, and timely advice from Michael J. Shapiro. Lastly, I would like to thank all of the people interviewed who took time out of their busy schedules to talk with me.

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Research Papers in Economics

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Last time updated on 7/6/2012

This paper was published in Research Papers in Economics.

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