Infrastructural Restitution: Cambodian Postwar Media Reconstruction and the Geopolitics of Technology
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Infrastructural Restitution: Postwar Cambodian Media Reconstruction and the Geopolitics of Technology charts the critical role of media and its technologies in the historical political landscape of Cambodia and in commemoration and healing from the trauma of its conflicts in contemporary Cambodia. The concept of infrastructural restitution allows us to query the special relationship between memory and media in a post-colonial and post-conflict setting, and understand creative reconstruction as a form of catharsis and political action. The first half describes the development of Cambodian film and radio infrastructures in the Sangkum Reastr Niyum period (1955-70) and their reconstruction after the Khmer Rouge during the socialist People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK, 1979-1991) and United Nations Transitional Authority of Cambodia (UNTAC, 1992-3) periods. The second half explains the centrality of media in the ways that Cambodians coming of age today grapple with a memory of their national past and dream towards new futures. Infrastructural Restitution is based on five years of historical research and ethnographic participation in the arts and technology communities of Phnom Penh and Battambang, Cambodia, including 20 months of full-time research from June 2017 until January 2019. The ethnographic sections are based on over 100 interviews, participant observation including residencies in grassroots art and technology centers, and the development of participatory art events and workshops. The historical sections are based on document review in eight archives in Cambodia and the United States and oral histories. Infrastructural Restitution illuminates the history of transnational frictions in the media sector, nuanced interplays between authoritarianism and independent media, and links between trauma, memory, and media from the Cold War period through today. It makes two sets of arguments. First, it argues that Cambodian new media creators commemorate lost artists and an imagined better way of life through finding, repairing, and disseminating historical film and radio artifacts, often using digital tools. It shows that reconstructing media artifacts through a process of infrastructural restitution is a distinctive part of contemporary media creation and future-building in Cambodia today. The concept also allows us to reintegrate the importance of memory, the affective, and the spiritual into scholarship of infrastructure. Second, this dissertation argues that the ways that digital media technologies today have broadly become tools for global geopolitical interference, nationalism and authoritarianism in Cambodia have roots in the Cold War and colonialism. This work demonstrates the importance of thinking about technology with a forwards and backwards vision: cultural memories – including histories of conflict and artistic heritage – inform future visioning, including vernacular innovation, creativity, and technology design. This work also insists that we must take lessons from history in analyzing the contemporary global digital environment in order to prevent repeating the tragedies of the conflicts of that period. It provides scholars, technologists, and development experts insight into the historical precedence for the rapid uptake of new digital tools in Cambodia and the geopolitical legacies in contemporary information and communication technology initiatives.
Cambodia; ethnography; geopolitics of technology; infrastructure; media and memory; noise
Jackson, Steven J.
Welker, Marina Andrea; Loos, Tamara; Dell, Nicki; Levy, Karen
Ph. D., Information Science
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis