Journey to modern Thailand : Westernisation, television advertising and tensions in everyday life.
This thesis examines how and why Thai advertising 'Westernises'. Drawing on a
literature from the theoretical fields of globalisation, consumer culture and advertising, it
interrogates the 'Westernisation' process across the three communicative moments of
advertising: production, text and consumption. The research project argues first that
Thailand's society, culture and media have historically evolved in relation to both the
processes of 'W esternisation' and 'Thainisation', and ·second that class, mapped onto an
'urban' and 'rural' divide, is a key factor in shaping the articulations of 'Western' and 'Thai'
cultures in contemporary Thai society. The thesis suggests that advertising represents and
manages social change by looking 'back to the future'. As 'apostles of bourgeois modernity',
the adverts 'look forward', mythifying modem life as 'future-oriented' and 'developed'. But
at the same time, ads 'look backward', offering a 'nostalgic' presentation of what is lost in
modem society -- the 'undeveloped' rural which is kept intact rather than modernised.
Created by practitioners who identify themselves as 'Thai cosmopolitans', they and their
urban audiences use 'Westernisation' to distinguish themselves from the rural peasantry: they
set up a symbolic frontier between 'Us' and 'Them'. In contrast, in response to ads, rural
people sceptically observe social change and the more 'Western' modem life which they wish
to have; however, this is also a rationalisation of what they cannot (yet) have. The thesis
concludes that in the 'journey to modem Thailand', although 'Western modernisation' is
(re)defmed as 'social development' radiating outward from the metropolitan centre, culturally
it is marked by an ambivalent relation to Thai traditional values and to the rural. The latter
continue to constitute a necessary counter-pointing narrative of 'W esternisation' within
advertising and the self-identity of the Thai middle classes.