An investigation of western influence in visual communications from Cambodian non-commercial sources

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This thesis is based on the analysis of 248 pieces of visual communications from Cambodian non-commercial sources along with interviews conducted with 10 noncommercial producers of visual communications in Cambodia. Western influence was found to be widespread in numerous forms, ranging from such prosaic forms as their format and the technology used to produce them, to a tendency in some Christian material to depict the virtuous as European and the unvirtuous as more Asian. At rural crossroads throughout Cambodia the corners present an array of billboards, with commercial billboards typically outnumbered by those from non-commercial sources such as NGOs and UN agencies. These bear messages such as the importance of vaccinations, the official voter registration procedure, the importance of registering the birth of children, advice on newly implemented laws, health advice and nutrition advice. Similar material exists in poster format in private homes, provincial hospitals, the houses of local leaders and other community spaces. Not publicly visible but existing in significant numbers are the books, leaflets, stickers, magazines and other forms of visual communications also produced by similar non-commercial organisations. The prevalence of non-commercial organisations in Cambodia is such that the single biggest sector of the economy is the development sector. There are over 450 international and local non-government organisations, international organisations and donors operating in Cambodia. The majority of these organisations have some kind of western affiliation. This may be in the form of their funding sources, western staff, western religious affiliation or western educated Cambodian staff. Thus it can be expected that the presence of these western affiliations will be expressed to some degree in their visual communications. It has been observed that economic development brings about somewhat predictable cultural changes. Khmer culture in particular is vulnerable as a result of the attempted abolition of religion and the closing of cultural institutions that was imposed by the Democratic Kampuchea regime. While the effect that this material might have on the sustainability of Khmer culture cannot be gauged, an attempt has been made in this thesis to observe and identify the presence of these western influences in the context of cultural sustainability.
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