Status Strategies among Thai Elites: International Education, Cosmopolitanism, and Ideas of ‘The West’.

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Kunnaya Wimooktanon

Abstract

International education has been practised by Siam/Thailand’s elite classes since the late 19th century. However, studies of this practice are few and far between. This thesis investigates the practice of international education among Thailand’s elites, examining international education as a strategy that is used to maintain or enhance an elite’s status through the importation of deterritorialised cultural capital. This research employs in-depth semi-structured interviews of former international students, examining the logic and discourses behind the participants’ decision to study overseas, their perceptions and practices while studying overseas, and how they deploy their new-found cultural capital upon their return to Thailand. These narratives are then analysed with respect to historical references outlining the ways in which Siamese/Thai elites have employed western-derived cultural capitals as status symbols in the past. It demonstrates a link between these historical engagements with western modernity to the contemporary practice of international education among Thailand’s elite, influencing the participants’ assumption of a hierarchy of culture, with western tertiary institutions seen as being automatically superior to Thai institutions. This study investigats the practice of international education as a strategy that has been influenced by the participant’s family, notably through the schooling choices made for the participants by their parents. Participants who have been schooled overseas or at an international school demonstrated higher levels of ease with the Western other, enabling them to engage more closely with the ‘source’ of Western culture, allowing them to show greater nuance in their consumption of Western things and practices. Their schooling history placed them at an advantage to participants who have been schooled in the Thai educational system, whose narrative shows a more anxious, deliberative, and by-the-book approach to their engagement with western culture. This study confirms findings from previous studies into international practices. Specifically, it shows that narratives of openness to foreign others do not necessarily automatically indicate a cosmopolitan or globally reflexive world view, that these narratives need to be analysed within the context of the participants’ frame of reference. In the case of this thesis, the participants’ narratives of openness to foreign others and their valuing of international education prove to be a reproduction of a culturally hierarchical frame of reference, with roots in the unequal relationship between Siam/Thailand and western colonial powers. This frame of reference results in the west being perceived as the source of modernity and progress. Moreover, this thesis also expands upon previous research into deterritorialised cultural capital, broadening the concept by bringing attention to the nuance between high cultural capital participants, and very high cultural capital participants. This thesis also demonstrates how Thailand’s intellectually bifurcated discourse of its relations to the west complicates the study of international education as a deterritorialised form of cultural capital. This finding demonstrates a need for an approach to deterritorialised cultural capital that is attuned to not just the nuances of a particular field’s western lifestyle myth but also the nuances in how that myth was constructed.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Award date1 Aug 2018