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Political History of Land Struggle and Agrarian Differentiation in Northwestern Cambodia

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Abstract

This webinar discusses contemporary land struggle and agrarian differentiation in the Samlout district of Battambang province in northwestern Cambodia. Following the downfall of Democratic Kampuchea in 1979, Samlout became a base for Khmer Rouge (KR) resistance against the PRK government until the late 1990s, when a political reintegration arrangement (samanharonakam) was agreed upon between the two parties that ended the two-decade-long conflict. Samlout, along with the other remaining KR strongholds, was then transformed into a new agricultural landscape to accommodate demobilized militants as they transitioned into agrarian life. Ex-KR warlords were in control of land distribution to ex-militants based on a five-hectare rule. However, the ultimate claim to land ownership was highly fragmented and uneven, a process that has continued to shape Samlout’s agrarian landscape today. Informed by work in critical agrarian studies and political ecology, the webinar unpacks how today’s land struggle and uneven development in Samlout is shaped, though not determined, by its long history of warfare and the political reintegration that followed. Specifically, the post-conflict creation of a new agrarian landscape was enmeshed within an existing power structure that had control over resources and access to labor, which led to competing claims for legitimacy over land. This discussion is based on a multi-sited ethnographic research on agrarian commodification and labor migration in Battambang conducted between March and December 2023.

Bio: 

Speaker: Rosa Yi is a Dissertation Research fellow at the Center for Khmer Studies (CKS) and a PhD candidate in human geography at the National University of Singapore (NUS), where he is an awardee of the NUS–Harvard-Yenching Institute Joint PhD scholarship. His dissertation research, entitled “Political ecologies of agrarian commodification and labor migration in Cambodia,” examines how capitalist development of agriculture transforms agrarian socio-natural landscapes, shapes rural livelihood trajectories, and produces different geographies of labor migration. Using a multi-sited ethnographic approach, the research explores, through the experiences of smallholder farmers, how commodity production and labor migration under contemporary capitalism intersect and transform socio-natural relations.

Moderator: Prof. John Marston, from the Center for Asian and African Studies of El Colegio de México in Mexico City, was the scholar-in-residence at CKS between mid-2023 and early 2024. 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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