Date of Award

2011

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Psychology and Social Science

Faculty

Computing, Health and Science

Second Advisor

Dr Nancy Hudson-Rodd

Abstract

This is an ethnographic study of how Lao Isan youth living in the northeastern provincial capital Khon Kaen and nearby town Mahasarakham experience Thainess or khwampenthai in its most popular form – television. People who inhabit the northeast of Thailand interchangeably label themselves and are labelled by others as Isan, Thai Isan, Lao Isan, Thai or Lao, depending on the ethnic, political, social or familial nuances of any given situation. I use the term Lao Isan to refer specifically to Isan people of Lao origin or ethnicity. Lao Isan are subject to complex and often competing notions of Isanness, Laoness and Thainess by insiders and outsiders. Using data derived from a 2002 ethnographic study of the responses of Lao Isan youth (aged 17 to 25) to their favourite Thai television programs, this thesis explores contemporary and co-existing interpretations of Isan identity or khwampenisan among Lao Isan youth in relation to historical context and processes of identity formation. The people of northeast Thailand, or Khon Isan, are confronted daily with ambiguities gravitating around the perceived multiplicity of their identity, particularly Thai identity and Lao (Isan) identity. Political, social and cultural constructs of identity are continually contested. Collective themes and understandings of Lao Isan identity are represented and constituted by outsiders and insiders whose views melt into and across cultural borders. Some of these constructions highlight the exclusivity of Isan identity – a tight geographical space that is no longer Lao but Thai Isan within the larger Thai nation state. Others ignore geographical boundaries and explore Lao Isan identity within a more open cultural space that encompasses both northeast Thailand and Laos. Informing these constructions are overlapping and often conflicting views on Thai-Lao historiography, Lao Isan indigenous studies, and the influence of popular culture.

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