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Finding Yourself: Educational Aspirations among Cambodian University Students in Phnom Penh

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This presentation will provide a summary of preliminary findings from 12 months of ethnographic doctoral dissertation research with Cambodian university students and alumni of public and private universities around Phnom Penh. The project focuses on how participating in higher education has impacted young Cambodians’ vision of the future and what makes a “good life,” particularly in gendered ways. Using theories from the anthropology of the future and Sarah Ahmed’s (2010) “happy objects,” she considers how schooling orients her interlocutors to their future in particular ways, for example, by delaying romantic relationships or prioritizing internship opportunities, in order to seek what they consider to be a “good life.” This vision of the “good life” includes not only establishing their own financial stability but also providing key support to their family members in ways that “repay” their filial obligations. Finally, she considers how visions of the future are experienced differently by men and women, and how both are involved in the (re)thinking of gender norms in Cambodia today.


Speaker: Jessica Garber is a CKS Dissertation research fellow and a PhD candidate in sociocultural anthropology at Boston University. Prior to this, she was a secondary school math teacher and received a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Colorado Denver. She later went on to pursue a second master’s degree in anthropology and education from Teachers College, Columbia University, where she began researching parental perceptions of private primary and secondary schools in Phnom Penh. Her current dissertation work builds on these past experiences to explore how students’ experiences in university impacts their lives. This project was generously supported by Fulbright-IIE, the Center for Khmer Studies, and Boston University. 

Moderator: Prof. John Marston, from the Center for Asian and African Studies of El Colegio de México in Mexico City, is the scholar-in-residence at CKS during the second half of 2023. His association with CKS dates back many years. Previously, he received CKS research funding through our Fellowship programs and coordinated a CKS capacity-building project. Marston’s publications include History, Buddhism, and New Religious Movements in Cambodia (with Elizabeth Guthrie); Anthropology and Community in Cambodia; and Ethnicity, Borders, and the Grassroots Interface with the State. His articles have appeared in multiple scholarly journals and in edited volumes published by Cornell University Press, University of Hawaii Press, Edinburgh University Press, Palgrave, El Colegio de México, and Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the publications and through webinars are solely those of the authors or speakers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Center for Khmer Studies, Inc. The designations employed in the publications and through the webinars, and the presentation of material therein, do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of The Center for Khmer Studies, Inc. as to the matters discussed therein. The responsibility for opinions expressed in the publications and webinars are solely those of the authors or speakers, and the publication does not constitute an endorsement by The Center for Khmer Studies, Inc. of the opinions, views or issues discussed therein.


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