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Science Communication in Urban Thailand: Issues and Challenges

Chinnalong, Saowanee (2015) Science Communication in Urban Thailand: Issues and Challenges. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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Abstract

This thesis examines the key characteristics and challenges of science communication in contemporary urban Thailand. I argue that one key characteristic of science communication in Thailand is the significant role of the Science-Buddhism dialogue in public accounts of science, and I examine the vital role of media in this dialogue for the Thai middle-class. By tracing the history of science communication in urban Thailand, I suggest that the Science-Buddhism dialogue has long been engaged in the Thai cultural landscape, with political meanings since the 19th century. However, I argue that in contemporary Thai society, the key purpose in the dialogue has transformed from political aims to offering comfortable messages about the superiority of Buddhist cosmology. I argue that the dialogue has recently shifted a little: while demonstrating the compatibility between scientific knowledge and Buddhist teachings, and concluding that Buddhism is superior to science, a new highlighted theme is a focus on the individual beliefs of one Western scientist: Albert Einstein. In this thesis, I explore this new highlighted theme in popular depictions of Einstein, developing an understanding of his role in the Thai middle-class view towards science. Clearly Einstein is a scientific world celebrity whose biographies contains many myths created mainly by the American press. However, I show that in the Thai popular account, his fame arose instead from his alleged connections with Buddhism portrayed by the Thai press. I show that Einstein’s supposed commitments to Buddhist teaching are tenuous, and difficult to authenticate. The middle-class and the media’s significant interest towards a Buddhistized Einstein in the Science-Buddhism dialogue is grounded in the Thai public’s interest primarily in non-economic cosmologically-oriented science. This has become a significant challenge for the government trying to engage the middle-class with economic forms of science that can help to develop industrial growth. A key challenge facing the government trying to motivate this indigenous form of Thai economic science by harnessing it to nationalist goals and associations with specific monarchs, is the middle-class’s significant interest in a non-economic view of science based on a Buddhistized Einstein. These challenges have generated an inevitable tension between the government and the middle-class, leading to the government’s perception of the middle-class as being cold to science. I suggest that one possible solution to ease the tension would be for the government to take a less-secular approach toward science by engaging with the Science-Buddhism dialogue to raise it to a more intellectual level. By that means we may hope that the government could succeed in creating a productive indigenous form of Thai science with the middle-class’s support.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: science communication, Science-Buddhism dialogue
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > School of Philosophy, Religion and the History of Science
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.675522
Depositing User: Saowanee Chinnalong
Date Deposited: 15 Dec 2015 11:06
Last Modified: 25 Jul 2018 09:51
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/10439

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