Migration, media flows and the Shan nation in Thailand

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Amporn Jirattikorn

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This dissertation examines the cross-border flows of media texts, migration and the construction of ethnic identity in the receiving state. It focuses on the recent wave of Shan ethnic nationals from Burma who migrate to seek work in Thailand and their relationships with Shan media -- primarily in the forms of audio cassettes, video CDs, and movies -- that follow these mobile people. My purpose in linking mass media and migration is to understand how displacement shapes the social construction of identity and how Shan ethnic media plays a significant role in shaping identity in a situation of displacement. Based on eighteen months of ethnographic work with the Shan migrant community in Chiang Mai, Thailand, this dissertation argues on two grounds. First, while Shan media shows the ability to cross the borders, and hence disturbs the boundaries of the state, transnational flows are also shaped by the politics and practices of a nation-state. The diversification of Shan media that now include a variety of local, national and transnational as well as commercial and community media illustrates ways in which mass media can offer both a technology of state control as well as parallel spaces for alternative transnational practice. Second, I argue for the need to pay attention to diversity within a migrant population, in particular the presence of various groups of migrants at the same point of time. In trying to understand how different social and material conditions and the history of migration shape the ways people ascribe to ethnic and national identity, this study draws on four different categories of Shan migrants -- the new arrivals, the long-term residents, the ethno-nationalists, and the exile prisoners. Each of these points to different ways of engagement with this media and the different meanings the individuals in each category ascribe to the notion of Shan nation and to what it means to be Shan.