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Confessions of a shopaholic?

Saw this interesting study mentioned by Bangkok Pandit. It’s a PhD thesis written by an Australian girl of Khmer ethnicity and it’s called “Thai urban middle class and urban-rural divide” and BP gives a very enticing bites from the abstract and the conclusion.

Accordingly, I argue that the notion of the ‘urban-rural divide’ popularly used to describe the conflict obscures a more complex reality in which city and countryside are linked by reciprocal relations within both urban and national systems of status and class.

Hmm, tasty.

I immediately followed the link and prepared for some real serious reading. This was just in the first paragraph:

My investigations suggest that an indigenous spatial-symbolic matrix, encapsulated in centralising and hierarchising mandalic principles, continues to inform both cultural understandings of stratification and the socio-spatial structure of Bangkok.

However, once I passed beyond the abstract it turned into something else entirely. For the next thirty pages or so it’s all about shopping, shopping, and more shopping. I swear there isn’t a page so far that doesn’t mention shopping in one way or another.

I think her own description of her research should be presented before one gets too excited about her conclusions:

Finding opportunities to engage in participant-observation in order to research consumption is none too difficult in a city where shopping is less an activity and more a way of life….I spent inordinate amounts of time in such places, either conducting surveys, engaging in observation, or accompanying friends and informants as they went about their daily lives…

“Friends and informants” are mentioned in her acknowledgment chapter: “Christine, My, Pamela, Pooh, Wolfie, Paul, and Sean” – I suspect at least one of them is actually a dog, but maybe not, maybe the dog was her research assistant who didn’t even deserve to get her name mentioned:

“My research assistant accompanied me without complaint to the most unlikely places to conduct research, tirelessly helped me find informants, and provided perceptive observations of her own. Her contributions have extended well beyond the call of duty.”

She was in Thailand for a grand total of eighteen months.

Generally it’s a very easy read, the acknowledgment chapter I mentioned could be mistaken for some blonde bimbo reception speech at MTV pop-tart of the year award but it doesn’t diminish her originality in any way. She has plenty of cultural references that are immediately recognizable by any Bangkokian and, though not hilarious, point to a good sense of humor and observation skills.

I would recommend this paper to everybody, even if only for laughs.

Hopefully I’ll get to the heavy stuff before I lose interest, it can’t be all about shopping for 300+ pages, can it?

Oh, shit, research assistant was not a dog, found her mentioned again, on page 35: “Mali was approximately the same age as myself and had trained in the social sciences (linguistics and comparative politics) at preeminent London universities.”

Though choosing verb “trained” rather than “studied” is still suspicious.


3 Responses

  1. Read the intro and conclusion. Skim read, and then go back through topics which interest you. Disliked her use of informants which didn’t really seem to add much at points. At times, she seemed made at the “system” for sucking her in to shopping. Tried to look at the bigger picture of what she was writing about and some of the theory.

    • Thanks for the advice, but after your introduction there is no need to for a quick assessment, I just enjoy reading it, even though it’s not what I initially expected.

  2. On page 78 now… I can’t resist the idea of a middle class Aussie raised but Thai looking girl wandering around BKK. The contrast between her understanding of Thai ways and the work of Dr Ferrara which I also downloaded from the net yesterday is quite striking. She must have had a pleasant 18 months and kudos for funding it from normally dry as dust academic institutions.
    She was wise not to go to the PAD rallies. With their level of Nationalist paranoia about spies she might have had an uncomfortable experience with the security.

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