International Organization


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

William A. Callahan


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.

William A. Callahan is Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) of International Politics and Deputy-Director of the Centre for Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Durham, England. During 2002–3 he was a British Academy Fellow at the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, Harvard University. He can be reached at