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Culture of violence or violent Orientalism? Neoliberalisation and imagining the ‘savage other’ in post-transitional Cambodia

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Violence and authoritarianism continue to resonate in Cambodia’s post-transitional landscape, leading many scholars, journalists, international donors and non-governmental organisations alike to posit a ‘culture of violence’ as responsible for the country’s democratic deficit and enduring violence. In contrast, this paper interprets the culture of violence thesis as a sweeping caricature shot through with Orientalist imaginaries, and a problematic discourse that underwrites the process of neoliberalisation. The culture of violence argument is considered to invoke particular imaginative geographies that problematically erase the contingency, fluidity and interconnectedness of the places in which violence occurs. While violence is certainly mediated through both culture and place, following Doreen Massey’s re-conceptualisation of space and place, this paper understands place not as a confined and isolated unit, but as a relational constellation within the wider experiences of space. This reflection allows us to recognise that any seemingly local, direct or cultural expression of violence is necessarily imbricated in the wider, structural patterns of violence, which in the current moment of political economic orthodoxy increasingly suggests a relationship to neoliberalism. Through the adoption of the culture of violence discourse, neoliberalisation is argued to proceed in the Cambodian context as a ‘civilising’ enterprise, where Cambodians are subsequently imagined as ‘savage others’.

Keywords: Cambodia; Orientalism; neoliberalism; power/knowledge; space; violence

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: July 1, 2009

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