Tides Of Empire: Merit, Morality, And Development In Rural Cambodia

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Set in Sambok Dung, a small rural village in Western Cambodia, this ethnographic study attends to the physical and social landscapes over which empire rolls and to the detritus that remains through its ebbs and flows. This is an intimate picture of social life at the edge of the forest and the frontier of empire; it is also a critique leveled from the margins of a marginal state that attempts to re-member the social categories of religion and politics and of nature and culture. I attend to the interstitial zones of these externally constructed categories and excavate the discursive, historical, and practical boundaries they attempt to describe: boundaries rendered null, I argue, by practices of subsistence and community that extend beyond the human actors and persist within and through the imperial classifications. Cambodia's return to the market economy after thirty years of war is remarkable for the intensity of both its economic success and its authoritarian brutality. When the country opened to the global market in the late 1990s, the government awarded large-scale Economic Land Concessions (ELCs) to development companies. Violent dispossessions and equally violent protests marked this adventure in primitive accumulation, and Social Land Concessions (SLCs) were issued as a palliative for Cambodian citizens. One of these SLCs brought landless and land-poor farmers to cut the village of Sambok Dung out of the forest in the middle of the country's largest ELC. Sambok Dung is a contact zone where multiple ways of being in the world are simultaneously at play. The dissertation attends to the intimate dwelling of heterogeneous villagers, and to the structural forces of states, development projects, and universal religions, but also allows the mountains, the forest, and the spirits of the land into the stories as agentive actors. The mountains and weather world expose the fragility of development projects and the low wages of plantation work renders null their legitimacy. The temples and roads are expensive in excess of capacity, yet the people in Sambok Dung desire these hallmarks of empire and point their productive energies toward them, dragging the forests and spirits into the rising tide.
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religion; development; Cambodia; spirit tradition; ontology; politics; history; environment
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Fiskesjo, N Magnus G
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Mertha, Andrew
Willford, Andrew C.
Hansen, Anne R
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Ph. D., Anthropology
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Government Document
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dissertation or thesis
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