SOAS University of London

Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies (CCLPS)

Michaela Unterbarnscheidt

BA International Business and Cultural Studies (Passau), MA Languages and Literatures of Southeast Asia (SOAS)
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Michaela Unterbarnscheidt
Ms Michaela Unterbarnscheidt
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Thesis title:
A comparative study of transition and social change in early Thai and Amharic novels
Year of Study:
Internal Supervisors

PhD Research

Comparative Literature today largely still retains the European component as a frame of reference. Recent calls for global or even planetary literature allow for a deviation from Eurocentric assumptions and a move beyond the comparative, inviting an examination of seemingly unrelated national literatures as man-made representations of society which reflect and refract political and historical developments.

Probing into the dynamics of the socio-cultural and historical reshaping of Thailand and Ethiopia over the 20th century, I argue that the similarities between these countries run far deeper than the propagated myth of an independent nation unbroken by colonial rule. Through selected novels in Thai and Amharic as a looking glass, I ask whether common features can be detected in literary characters acting as representatives of the factions affected by and affecting the transition towards modernity. Is the quest for national identity in the face of external pressure analogous to the extent that Asian and African nations with similar historical starting points are subject to similar developments? How does nationhood develop and adapt in an allegedly extracolonial context, and how is this reflected in literature as part of the cultural heritage?

In a wider context, the thesis questions the importance of the institutionalization of colonial power for “Western” influence on the development of national identity. It looks at whether and to what extent nations that have never been formally colonized can be “post-colonial”, whether there is such a thing as the “non-post-colonial” at all, and where we should draw the line between “post-colonialism” and “globalization”.