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Juggling Between Modernity and the Spirits of the Forest: Microfinance and Land in the Highlands of Cambodia


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Over the past three decades, Cambodia has transformed economically, socially, and culturally. A major key feature of this transformation has been the rapid expansion of formal financial institutions, which has led to over-indebtedness, land dispossession, and distress migration. However, in the highland provinces of Cambodia, exposure to formal credit occurred less than a decade ago, as more and more cash crops, mainly cashew and cassava, began to replace the swidden subsistence agriculture. These changes have brought a new pattern of understanding, and beliefs in terms of how highlanders relate to the forestland and environmental milieu. Thus, in this webinar, drawn from eight months of ethnographic fieldwork in Ratanakiri, I will discuss how the expansion of formal financial institutions (e.g., microfinance institutions and banks) has impacted and shaped the social, cultural, and economic lives of indigenous households whose reliance on land lies beyond the means of production. I will delve into what it means to be indigenous and to be a so-called “modern citizen” with access to updated services. Those who identified themselves as indigenous have to juggle between maintaining a set of values that are crucial to their indigenous identity and fulfilling a set of economic needs under the new order of the cash economy.


Speaker: Phasy Res is a fourth-year PhD candidate in social anthropology at Université Paris 1, France. She is a scholarship recipient of the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD) via its ARTS programme. She is also a Dissertation Fellow of the Center for Khmer Studies, Cambodia. Her PhD research looks at the links between microfinance expansion and land security/insecurity. She has conducted research on a wide range of topics, including debt among various indigenous minority groups, policies on credit consumer protection, cross-border labor migration, malaria and society, and agricultural mechanization/intensification. Her work has been published in Espace Politique, Malaria Journal, Development Policy Review, Development and Change.

Moderator: Samedy Suong, CKS Deputy Director

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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