Date of Award

2003

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Faculty

Faculty of Communications and Creative Industries

First Advisor

Associate Professor Dr. Brian Shoesmith

Second Advisor

Dr. Rodney Giblett

Abstract

This study examines the production of campus graffiti as an alternative communication channel and opportunity for Thai students in three universities in three different parts in Thailand. The writing of graffiti is deemed an illegal activity in Thailand, which makes its prevalence on the Thai university campus an intriguing issue. To understand why Thai university students so readily indulge in an illegal activity this thesis investigates student graffiti through an analysis of graffiti as anonymous resistance from students to authoritarian power exercised on campus and as an escape from sociocultural taboos and cultural oppressions that Thai society places on youth in areas such as sexuality and cultural ideals. Foucault's theory of power is also applied in this analysis to demonstrate how student graffiti may be read as a significant form of rebellion and resistance. The authorities wish to portray this form of youth behaviour as anarchy. However, students wish to portray it as an expression of dissent by young people living in repressive situations and environments, where legitimate media outlets are unavailable or difficult to access, communicative chances are few and cultural barriers deny students of their communicative rights and freedom of speech. This study relies on the qualitative content analysis technique to analyze and categorize the graffiti data collected from the three universities. Primary data used in this thesis include graffiti inscriptions recorded from male anti female toilets, questionnaires and interviews collected from six anonymous students-as-graffitists. For secondary data, other genre of campus graffiti (e.g. desktop and classroom graffiti), 200 sets of questionnaire used with students, interviews with several groups of university instructors and focused group interviews with university students arc used as supportive data for the study. The findings in this study support the argument that while graffiti is an outlawed network of communication for Thai university students they continue to resort to writing on the wall to express repressed opinions and negative feelings, to reaffirm self-identity, to intimidate others through hostility and violence and to gratify sexual needs. The findings reveal that there are two main groups of students as graffitists: heterosexual male students and homosexual male students employing graffiti as communication but for essentially for different purposes. Homosexual male students use graffiti to interact and share information with other homosexual male students and reach out to sexual partners. Moreover, graffiti offers them anonymity, secrecy, enjoyment and thrills. Heterosexual students use graffiti to express negative feelings towards the authorities (e.g. teacher and university), insult rivals and graffiti readers, fulfil sexual wishes and confirm their self-existence. Similarly, both groups of graffitists use graffiti to break social regulations, cultural oppression, authoritarian rules and issues Thais deem taboo or unwanted behaviours for youth such as disrespect for seniors and violence. This thesis reveals that graffiti, as practiced by Thai youth, acts as the voice of youthful dissent signifying the need of social status, space, communication rights and an escape from regulations and rules that graffiti attempts to defy. The research findings re-examine some distinctive sociocultural characteristics in Thai society that are the cultural bedrock of graffiti. It challenges the notion of disciplinary power and authoritarian control over youth exercised in the form of regulations, cultural rules and social values youth are obligated to follow. It is pointed out that although the society believes the heavy-handed rules placed on youth and a decree shunning youth out of the adult world will lead youth to the positions of being the nation's intellectual leaders as the country expects, this notion is always met with resistance from youth. The study also reveals that although Thailand sets itself as a puritanical Buddhist society holding the ideals of peacefulness, social harmony and refined manners expressed through the ability to control and discipline oneself, this is an imagined one with masked hostility and violence underneath the peaceful scenario. The finding summarizes that it is through graffiti that Thai students, as young social members, subvert these ideals but reflect an unmasked facet of the Thai society.

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