AAS Annual Meeting

Southeast Asia Session 185

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Session 185: State Society Relations and Natural Resource Management in Cambodia

Organizer: Maylee M. Thavat, Australian National University, Australia

Discussant: Sarah Milne, Australian National University, Australia

It is often suggested that Cambodia is a country emerging from a triple transition: from war to peace, from command economy to free market economy and from authoritarianism to democracy. Yet such statements are very misleading and suggest that the threat of violence has abated, that markets function free of state interference and that political freedom has been won. This is certainly not the case in Cambodia. However, this is not to suggest that continuing processes of development, foreign intervention and newly emerging trade opportunities have not remade the state and society and therefore natural resource management. A key framework by which this is understood is the interpretation of Cambodia as falling under a ‘neoliberal order’. This panel challenges this interpretation highlighting instead the institutional blurring of Cambodia’s political economy and the role of coercion in the construction of markets and natural resource use. Presentations in this panel will explicitly outline examples of ‘everyday’ coercive practices of specific actors in natural resource management and highlight the multiple, overlapping and often informal roles that make categorization of any one stakeholder group or actor problematic much less positioning them within an overarching ‘neoliberal order’.

Misgivings Over Cambodia's Neoliberal Order: Case Studies from the Agricultural Sector
Maylee M. Thavat, Australian National University, Australia

Recent interpretations of Cambodia's prevailing political economy seek to link the process of neoliberalism with the country's increasingly menacing form of violent authoritarianism (Springer 2009). Dubbed "neoliberalism with Cambodian characteristics" the implication here is that free market reforms is enforced by local officials and encouraged by foreign interests who stand to benefit the most from 'neoliberalism'. Yet how are such views reconciled with what is plainly evident 'on the ground' in Cambodia, where a culture of patron-clientism is backed by appeals to higher cosmological forces through a 'regime of gift giving' (Hughes 2006) and where the state permeates almost all forms of everyday life? How can a country such as Cambodia be interpreted as 'neoliberal' when a kleptocratic government elite have far from relinquished control key resources and commodities to the free market but have instead maintained steadfast control over all levers of power be they military, economic, political, social or cultural? This presentation seeks to demonstrate that neoliberalism is an inappropriate term to apply to the Cambodian context. A context where the three dominant institutional forms of organisation: government, the private sector and the aid sector blur and intersect to such an extent that it is often difficult to separate them. A number of examples from private sector agricultural projects in Cambodia will be discussed and further questions raised as to the implications for natural resource management in Cambodia as a whole.

Coercion in the international diffusion of liberalism: insights from the dynamics of Cambodia’s transformation
Andrew R. Cock, , Australia

The political and economic processes associated with the diffusion of market liberalism into the periphery of the post-Cold War international system have been much studied by scholars and development practitioners. But the role of coercion in this process is not well understood. Scholars have not adequately dissected the agents and instruments through which coercion is exercised in terms of their often indirect role in diffusing market liberalism. The purpose of this paper is thus to provide an empirically grounded examination of how political elites and a state’s coercive apparatus are involved in this process. Drawing on an examination of the spread of market liberalism into rural Cambodia, the paper dissects the interaction between Cambodia’s ruling elite and the externally promoted policies aimed at supporting land reforms and commercializing agriculture. In the paper, I suggest that the social, economic, and political changes associated with the emergence of a land market in rural Cambodia are underpinned by a coercive process the domestic and international dimensions of which have not been properly understood. By dissecting the process, I hope to sharpen the focus on a lacunae in scholarly literature in political science and international relations and suggest how it might be addressed.

State-making and forest conservation in remote Cambodia
Sarah Milne, Australian National University, Australia

This paper explores state-society relations in a ‘far away’ valley of the Cardamom Mountains, southwest Cambodia. The study area is home to over 1000 people, mainly indigenous Khmer Daeum, who live in scattered villages with limited road access and no communications services. In spite of the area’s remoteness, this paper illustrates how the contemporary Cambodian state has maintained, asserted, and increased its presence there since 2002. A key vehicle for state mobilisation and articulation in the area has been the creation of the Central Cardamoms Protected Forest, a high profile conservation area sponsored by international donors and managed by the Forestry Administration with support from a large US-based conservation organisation. The project has been responsible for implementing land-use planning and natural resource management with local villages. In this context, I explore state-society relations by examining ‘everyday’ organisational practices associated with the conservation project, in particular the interactions and power relations between state actors (Forestry Administration staff and local government officials) and civil society actors (NGO workers and community representatives). My research findings shed light on processes of state-making and government within remote villages of Cambodia, and in particular they illustrate how NGO-led efforts to provide space for civil society and local agency were systematically ‘squeezed out’ by state interests. The conservation project therefore served to extend and accentuate the presence of the state in this remote area of Cambodia, and it ultimately increased state control over people and natural resources in the area.

As Good As it Gets: Insights into Forest (Mis-)Management, State and Society in the village of Bey
Robin Biddulph, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

This paper begins with an actor-oriented look at forest management and livelihoods in a village in Northeast Cambodia, and then relates this to academic theories of state-society relations and to natural resource management policy narratives. International logging and agricultural companies, the village teacher, international and Cambodian NGOs, a national military unit, forestry administration officials, and three distinct classes of villager are all part of the struggle for resources in and around Bey, as the forest gradually gives way to a new agricultural landscape. Policy interventions in the name of forest management have sought successively to evict the village population or to establish community forestry. Trajectories of change in Bey resemble those that have been identified elsewhere in Southeast Asia (Walker 2004, Li 2002). Theories such as those of the Shadow State (Reno 1995) and The Limited State (Migdal 2001) provide some insights into the chaos and uncertainty in these trajectories. However, there is nothing to suggest that a characterisation of any actors as essentially ‘state’ or ‘society’ (or indeed ‘community’ or ‘market’) would aid understanding. The win-win policy simplifications of the community forestry programme implemented in the village were anachronistic and condemned the programme to be irrelevant. Possibly the failed initiatives extend the reach of the bureaucratic state (cf Ferguson 1991). However, this is less important for resource management debates than an apprehension of the extent to which policy must respond not to the formal roles and legitimacy of state or society actors, but to the incentives and sanctions of informal structures and processes.