Detecting Thainess: Primordialism and Constructivism in the Thai Expatriate Crime Novel

Tom Hoy


One of the major and increasingly more contested discourses on Thai society, politics and culture is that of “Thainess”. Thainess is notoriously difficult to define. However, two basic approaches or attitudes to the notion of Thainess can be discerned – primordialism and constructivism. The primordialist vision sees Thainess as an axiomatic given that is ultimately unsusceptible to scientific, rationalist explanation. It is something that is inherent in the “blood” of Thais. It is a set of cultural, social and political beliefs and practices that are intuitively understood, maintained and practiced by all true Thais. By contrast, the constructivist approach, as its name would suggest, sees Thainess as a construction, rather than an essence, and as a discourse that has been used to justify and sustain centralized power and hierarchy in the Thai state. In this paper, I look at a perhaps neglected source of information about Thainess. I analyze constructivist and primordialist visions of Thainess and Thailand in two popular Thai expat crime novels, Christopher G. Moore’s The Corruptionist and John Burdett’s Bangkok Haunts.


Thailand; Thainess; primordialism; constructivism; detective fiction; Christopher G. Moore; John Burdett

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