Dissertation/Graham: New Silk Roads: Promises and Perils of the Internet in the Thai Silk Industry

Grants and Contracts Details


This dissertation aims to expand our understanding of the social and economic impacts of information and communication technologies (lCTs). In order to situate the questions posed in this study, I will focus on the space-transcending effects of ICTs on production chains and economic actors in the Thai silk industry; thus allowing for empirically informed theoretical critiques to be made of economic development objectives which involve the disintermediating effects of ICTs. Recent events have left Thai silk producers highly uncompetitive in comparison to their Chinese counterparts. In reaction to this state of affairs, various economic actors (EAs) such as foreign NGOs, eBay merchants, and the Thai government have recognized the development potential that ICTs hold, and have begun using the Internet to bring producers and consumers closer together and transgress the vast distances that have traditionally separated producers from consumers necessitating a costly chain of intermediaries. In theory, producers can now directly sell anything to anyone at anytime, or to use a concept coined by Eric Sheppard: they can now open up wormholes between themselves and the end-consumer. The study is focused on five interrelated questions: (a) At which nodes in the production chain are ICTs being used?; (b) How have the introduction ofiCTs altered production chains and the flows of capital in the Thai silk industry?; (c) How are these changes altering the socioeconomic conditions of actors who are involved in reconfigured production chains?; (d) What are the relationships between contemporary discourses about the economic benefits of disintermediated commodity chains and the actual effects of disintermediated commodity chains?; and (e) Are older local silk making traditions being replaced as producers interact with distant consumers through the Internet? Through these questions I will examine the ways in which ICTs have been integrated into the Thai silk industry, probe the effects they are having, and relate these findings to theories of economic development and globalization. This research will be based on data collected through: (a) a content analysis of websites and policy documents; (b) institutional surveys to be completed by silk merchants and managers of cooperatives; (c) face-to-face surveys with a representative sample of silk merchants and producers; and (d) interviews with silk producers at selected firms. The intellectual merit of this dissertation will be to expand our understanding of the social and economic impacts of ICTs. I will focus on the effects, influences, and problems of disintermediated commodity chains and altered positionalities in the Thai silk industry. This will allow me to move beyond existing research in a number of ways. First, I will empirically document some of the effects that ICTs and altered positionalities are having in the Thai silk industry, both on the structure of commodity chains and on the social, cultural, and economic conditions of participant actors. Second, I will be able to compare a variety of politically powerful discourses about the benefits and risks of disintermediation as an economic development strategy against some of the material effects that practices of disintermediation are having. Doing so will allow empirically informed theoretical critiques to be made of economic development objectives which involve the disintermediating effects of ICTs. Finally, by focusing on the intersections between ICTs, disintermediated and globalized commodity chains, and economic development in the Thai silk industry, this dissertation will significantly contribute to literatures on development, technology, and economic change in Southeast Asia. The broader impacts of my dissertation rest in its ability to be broadly applicable in other development contexts in the 'global South'. By highlighting the complexities ofiCT adoption, in contrast to simplistic assertions ofthe disintermediating potentials ofiCTs being a panacea for poverty, this case study will provide useful guidance to policy makers attempting to increase local incomes. My dissertation becomes even more useful in such contexts, because due to the contemporaneity of widespread access to Internet technologies little has been published to-date on this topic; (c) the results of this dissertation will be disseminated widely: in the classroom, in scholarly journals, at academic and professional meetings, and perhaps most importantly, to nonacademic NGO, public policy, and economic development journals. Through an analysis of discourses and theories about: the effects of ICTs, the various ways in which ecommerce has been implemented, the structure of a variety of production chains, and the socio-economic changes happening at the nodes of those chains, this dissertation will link together theory about the potentials and problems of ICTs with an in-depth case study: thus allowing empirically-based theoretical critiques and observations to be made.
Effective start/end date4/15/073/31/08


  • National Science Foundation: $11,990.00


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