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Impact of Contemporary Globalisation on Thailand

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2224 words Published: 11th Dec 2017

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Contemporary globalization is defined as the final wave of globalization, and is characterized by the acceleration and intensification of the technological, cultural, religious, economic and political integration (Gerle 2000). Although this has led to development and advancement in many countries around the world, it has raised issues in many parts of Asia facing religious and social concerns. This essay will argue that contemporary globalization will raise issues in the traditional social and religious visible in two Asian nations, Thailand and Malaysia. The values that will be discussed is in relation to the paper are the Buddhist and Collectivist values for the Thai, and Islamic values for the Malays.

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Thailand and Malaysia are countries that are similar in the fact that they have both dominant religions that are closely linked with their way of life. Both countries are multiethnic and multicultural but Malaysia has a higher percentage of 50% ethnic Malays and 60% of the country practicing the Islamic faith (Nations Online 2011). In Thailand, it has majority of Thai which is 75% and with 94.6% of the country practicing the Buddhist faith (CIA 2011).

First this paper will discuss the conflict that occurs in the business culture of Thailand and Malaysia. Next, it will explain how contemporary globalization is intertwined with popular culture, or ‘pop culture’, and has placed a significant Western influence upon the youth of Thailand and Malaysia, and has changed their social ideology compared to the traditional ideology. Finally, the paper will identify how globalization has led to conflict with the conservative religious values that exist in Thailand and Malaysia.

Business culture in Thailand and Malaysia

The global spread of Multinational companies (MNCs) has led to the popularity of conducting a business in a Western style, which has led to conflict in the traditional Thai and Malay business culture.

In research conducted by Niffengger, Kulviwat and Engchancil (2006), traditional Thai business culture is strongly influenced by Buddhism.It explains that business is run in Thailand in a uniquely paternal style, and although the relationship between superior and subordinate is, “formal and authoritarian, the boss is expected to be benevolent and paternalistic” (Leppert 1996).  An example of how differently a local Thai business operates in comparison to a Western MNCs is visible in the example of the Siam Cement Group in 1998, when they “reported a loss of 52.5 billion Baht but did not lay off a single one of their 35,000 employees”, while on the other hand, “Kmart in 2003, laid off 57,000 of their staff to avoid bankruptcy and even closed one thirds of their stores” (Niffengger et al 2006 p. 409). It is just from the fundamental way of operating a business in the West that has come about from contemporary globalization which is very foreign to the Thai, and brings issues in the social and business aspect. For example, sexual equality was not common until the early 20th century due to Western influences upon Thailand and it is still seen as untraditional or unconventional in a traditional Thai business for a woman to be in a managerial level (Thaiways 2002). Through the influences of Western values which has come from contemporary globalization, traditional Thai business values face a dilemma on how to preserve their traditional business culture in the midst of the increasing MNCs.

Malaysia’s business practice bias is visible through the Bumiputra policy, meaning “sons of the soil”, which is the preferential treatment of the native Malay people. The Bumiputra came about from the New Economy Policy (NEP) in 1971 with goals to alleviate poverty and social and economic imbalances through equity ownership, employment, and other fields. Stoever (1985) explains the fields that ownership of productive resources should be 30% in the Bumiputra hands, for public and private corporations the Bumiputra should be 30% of the employees. Finally, Malays are given other advantages in university admissions, bank loans and credit access.

Although the Bumiputra policies are deeply imbedded into the Malaysian business culture, there are numerous ways that the Western practices of business have placed a significant amount of complication in the traditional Malay businesses. The traditional Islamic way of establishing the economy was from, “the desire to defend Islamic civilization against foreign cultural influences” (Kuran 1995 p.15). However, due to contemporary globalization the influence of the “Western secular system and capitalistic culture has been slowly adopted by a growing number of Malay business” (Mutalib 1993). The adoption and the continuation of coming into contact with the capitalist business culture of the West will endanger the survival of the Muslim culture, as argued by Al-Maududi (cited in Ahmad 2009), because it may result in complications to differentiate the Western and Muslim mindset and lifestyle. Although Malaysia has a strong protection for the ethnic Malays as seen with the Bumiputra policies, the gradual influences of the Western business culture is starting to endanger the security of the Malays and the way they conduct business.

Popular Culture in Thailand and Malaysia

Advancements in technology allows the Western media to be easily accessed by almost everyone in the nation, which will bring issues with the traditional lifestyle as the youth become more interested in what the Western media brings. Pop culture is commonly connected to cultural imperialism because it the Western film, television programmes, and music is known to impose bourgeois values and capitalist ideology (Berger 2008).

There are many causes of the introduction of pop culture and the impact is has placed upon Thailand, like Tourism and Media. Tourism was one of the earliest forms of the introduction of pop culture in Thailand. Westerners make up a significant portion of the Thai tourism industry, and leave an imprint of their culture behind. Thailand has won many tourism awards and is the first in the world for having the Best Tourist country for five consecutive years (Asiativ 2011). However, that has led to a form of ‘neo-colonization’ in consumerism and tourism. What tourism can do in a political economy approach is that developed metropolitan cities often impose their values on developing countries; in addition, the recipient countries face environmental, social and economic problems (Chang and Raguraman 2001). Furthermore, in order to accommodate the influx of tourism, Bangkok, which is the capital city of Thailand, reformed itself so that it will have an ‘Old Bangkok’, where the royal palace and historic temples are located, and a ‘New Bangkok’, where there are numerous shopping malls, hotels, and skyscrapers (Burke, Brash, and Bush 2010).

Thailand is slowly losing its traditional characteristics within the cities. Besides tourism, Berger (2008) also added that Thailand was going through rapid modernization and was losing their Thai identity and becoming more ‘Americanized’ due to the western media. It is telling how from Rodcumdee’s (2002) research, the media is becoming the most common way for locals to learn more about the West; television being the first and the internet and Western music as the 4th most popular medium. Due to Thailand accommodating tourist needs and influence from Western culture and habits that the tourists leave behind, as well as the accessibility of the Western media, this culminates in the erosion of Thailand’s authentic and exotic traditional values.

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Malaysia is also at a similar situation where pop culture influences the youth of the nation, especially for the ethnic Malay population. The Malaysian former Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim delivered a speech  in The Straits Times (cited in ed. Souchou  2001) where he described his concern of media and technology because, “in recent years there have been an overwhelming, almost imperialistic diffusion of Western or Western-influenced cultural products.” The issue in Malaysia is that the youth are absorbed in wanting to be like their idols that they see on MTV or eating McDonalds or KFC instead of eating their local delicacies. It is further explained by (Jayne 2003) that it is also partially the state government’s responsibility that the youth are being influenced by pop culture because of the lack of support for local pop culture that youths have no other choice but to search for their individuality or values in the western media which is easily accessible and popular globally. The lack of support for the local pop culture and the accessibility of the Western pop culture through contemporary globalization have caused the Malay youths to wander away from the traditional social values and practices.

Way of Life in Thailand and Malaysia

Finally, through the discussion of the two different aspects of contemporary globalization, it is significant to discuss the most crucial aspect of how globalization comes into conflict with the traditional way of life of Malaysia and Thailand due to their daily life being intertwined with religion.

In Thailand, there is a strong impact of contemporary globalization bringing issues to the traditional way of life for Thailand. The difference between the youth and the older generation as discussed in how pop culture is causing Thailand to lose its religious, cultural, and traditional way of life; moreover, it is leading to more dilemma. The forces of contemporary globalization did not stop at just imposing its Westernized culture, but also spread its influence to hybridizing the Buddhist religion of Thailand, which has caused an uprise and several issues in the nation. It is explained by Kitiarsa (2005) that this ‘hybridization’ has led to the rise of many public religious movements that are “responses to the wider, largely economic-impersonal forces of globalization that have profound ramifications for Thai social life.” It is discussed by Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Theory that the West and Thailand have a significant difference as to how Buddhism is deeply interwoven into the way of life for the Thai people (Niffengger et al. 2006).

For example, the Thai people believed in the predestination of human life, and how it cannot be altered or changed. However, through Western influence of how an individual has the power to change his or her destiny, this belief is challenged (Thaiways 2002). These Western ways of thinking through contemporary globalization has influenced the traditional Thai values and is shifting the way of life to the people which endanger the preservation of the Thai values. 

In Malaysia contemporary globalization is eroding the traditional social values and practices that have flourished in the nation for years. In Malaysia, many Muslims have started to adopt the ‘Hi/Hello culture’, which contrasts with the Islamic greeting which is ‘Assalamu Alaikum’ (May peace be on you) because while the Western greeting does not carry any “emotional attachment or blessings to someone. The Islamic greeting not only expresses emotional attachment, but also conveys blessings of peace for the person being greeted” (Nurullah 2008 p. 6). Through this influence and visible change in the country, Malaysia is starting to feel a form of threat from this ‘Westernization’ and is further explored by Gerle (2009) that in Malaysia, the state attempts to “recreate a Muslim identity in order to protect oneself against the West, in terms of economic dominance as well as values.” However, it is uncertain whether this attempt will succeed or not due to the wide influence that contemporary globalization already spread itself to.


The impact that contemporary globalization has on Thailand and Malaysia through the advancement of technology, introduction of foreign companies, and culture can be seen through this essay to be having a significant amount of challenges to the traditional religious and social values. Through the examination of the Buddhist Thai business culture and the Islamic Malay business culture, it is visible that the Western business culture is more individualistic, while the Thai and Malay business culture focuses on conformity, importance of religious practices, and taking care of the business as family. In addition, pop culture has caused the Thai and Malay youth’s identity to be more ‘Americanized’ due to the increase of western media and internet access.

Finally, the cultural and social practices, and the way of life of the Thai and Malay people is changing due to contemporary globalization like way of speech, daily lifestyles, and changes in their traditional religious practices is starting to distance the people from their traditional way of living. There are attempts taken by the government and people who are passionate in keeping their traditional social and religious values. But from observations of the examples of the impact of contemporary globalization, this seems to be a challenging task indeed.


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