A meeting of Kingdoms: Showcasing the depth and diversity of UK research on Cambodia / by Katherine Brickell


On May 31st 2018, the Blood Bricks team are bringing together UK-based experts working on Cambodia for the first time. The event, hosted by Royal Holloway, University of London will provide a space for the researchers to present their findings, share their stories and learn from each other. At this critical time in Cambodian politics, our discussion aims to foster a community of scholars for future advice, support, and collaboration, encompassing topics as diverse as music, geopolitics, and education in the Kingdom.

Beginning with an introduction to the Blood Bricks project and our early findings, this full day event is structured around three cross-cutting themes: Nationality, Democracy, Education, and Refuge; Faith, Art, Music, and Politics; and Commodity Histories, Chains, Geopolitics and Policies. By exploring these intersections, we aim to present a panoramic snapshot of Cambodia today, inform our ongoing work, and mould a sense of shared identity around Cambodian scholarship in the UK.

The day-long workshop will conclude with a screening of the award-winning film A Cambodian Spring and a Q & A with its director Chris Kelly and participant the Venerable Luon Sovath.

Workshop abstracts and participant biographies

Welcome and Introduction to the Blood Bricks project, Katherine Brickell (RHUL) and Laurie Parsons (RHUL)

PANEL ONE: Nationality, Democracy, Education, and Refuge

‘Social Media and Democracy in Cambodia: Challenges and Opportunities’

Marc Pinol (Bristol University)

Southeast Asian youth are heavy users of social media networks, and Khmer people are no exception. At the same time, political elites have also become very active on the net. This triggered series of opportunities and challenges for both parts, something that is inevitably shaping the domestic political landscape.

Marc is a first-year PhD student at the University of Bristol, doing research on the impact of Facebook on the status of democracy in Cambodia. After obtaining his master’s degree in East Asian Studies at the University of Leeds, he lived four years in Southeast Asia: three of them in Cambodia as a research fellow at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, in Phnom Penh, and then teaching social sciences and politics to undergraduate students. For one year he also taught social sciences to undergraduates in Thailand. Marc’s interest in Cambodia started after several solo journeys across Asia & Southeast Asia and visiting Cambodia for the first time in 2012. But the turning point was the chance to witness in first person the elections of 2013; it was back then when he decided to further his knowledge on the Khmer society.

‘Developing teacher capacity in Cambodia’

Elizabeth King

The research explores the issue of how best to develop teacher capacity in Cambodia. Using a case-study methodology data was collected, primarily, through semi-structured interviews with educators in government primary schools in three diverse locations. It proposes an expanded model of capacity development better suited to the Cambodian context.

I have extensive experience working in the education sector in Cambodia at macro, meso and micro levels, working with the Ministry of Education and a range of multilateral, bilateral and Non-Governmental Organisations. My PhD thesis, set within the wider context of the globalisation of education policy, explored the challenges surrounding teacher capacity development in Cambodia. My research focus is on teacher quality; on issues concerned with introducing learner-centred approaches in traditional cultures; and on teacher status and rights. Until my recent return to the UK I lectured at the University of Melbourne's Graduate School of Education, where I gained my PhD. I hold an MA in Education and International Development from UCL, Institute of Education, where I gained my PGCE in History/Politics, and a BA (Hons) in Politics from the University of Liverpool.

‘Modes of belonging among children with undetermined nationality. The Cambodian case.’

Charlie Rumsby (Coventry University)

The intimate worlds of Cambodia’s stateless children are ethnographically detailed through visual methodologies. In particular, how they experience identity and belonging.

Charlie Rumsby is an anthropologist at the Migration, Displacement and Belonging research group of the Centre for Trust Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University. Her recent work explores identity and belonging among children with undetermined nationality living in Cambodia and covers themes such as citizenship, human rights, morality, religious conversion, ethnicity and inter-generational mobilities. She is particularly interested in using visual methodologies to explore how communities on the margins negotiate place and navigate their way through informal and formal pathways; what strategies communities employ to live side by side peacefully within hostile environments. Her recent publications include ‘Researching Childhood Statelessness’ in The World’s Stateless Children, ed. by van Waas, L. and de Chickera, A. Wolf Legal Publishers (2017), and 'Acts of Citizenship and Alternative Perspectives on Voice among Stateless Vietnamese Children in Cambodia', Statelessness Working Paper Series (2015).

‘Sheltering from Violence: Women’s Experiences of Safe Shelters in Cambodia’

Naomi Graham (Royal Holloway)

Evidence shows that intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence faced by women in Cambodia. However, the options for support are limited. This presentation will provide an overview of an ongoing doctoral project that explores women's experiences of seeking refuge in NGO run safe shelters in Cambodia.

Naomi Graham is a doctoral student at Royal Holloway University of London. Her research explores the experiences of women living in NGO run safe shelters in Cambodia.

PANEL TWO: Faith, Art, Music, and Politics

‘How Religious Faith is Conceived as Benefiting Clients in Christian Anti-Trafficking Faith-Based NGOs in Cambodia’

John Frame (University of Oxford)

How do leaders of FBOs conceive of the ways in which religious faith might affect their clients? This presentation examines this question in the context of Christian FBOs in Cambodia that work with women and children who have been sexually exploited, trafficked, or involved in the sex trade. The presentation brings conceptual clarity to the relationship between faith practices and their perceived benefits. It introduces a schematic model that outlines the ways FBO leaders understand faith practices as benefiting FBO clients, thus providing an analytical tool for those seeking to understand the relationship between faith and its impact on clients in other geographical contexts.

John Frame is a DPhil candidate in the Dept. of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford, studying faith-based and secular NGOs in Cambodia. He has worked in local government in the USA, held two consultancies at UNDP (Istanbul), and is an adjunct faculty member of the M.A. in Nonprofit Management Programme at Adler University (Chicago).

‘The Process of Re-Construction and Revival of Musical Heritage in Contemporary Cambodia’

My talk aims to show the ways in which Khmer musical heritage, particularly traditional music and some kinds of theatre genres, is re-shaped, promoted and restored by local NGOs, mass media and young performers in an effort to re-construct Khmer cultural identity.

Francesca Billeri (SOAS)

Francesca Billeri is a PhD candidate in Music at SOAS University of London. In 2002 she achieved a piano diploma at the Conservatoire in Italy. In 2009 Billeri undertook a research on Cambodian traditional wedding music to complete a Master degree at “La Sapienza” University of Rome. Part of this work is published in Asian Musicology 2016. In 2013 she organized the first Khmer music workshop at SOAS gathering scholars from France and Italy. Billeri’s PhD research focuses on the exchange of repertoires of Khmer wedding music and other traditional genres including music accompanying healing ceremonies (phleng arak) and two kinds of popular theatre (lakhon yikè and lakhon bassac). Her research interests include the effects of the ongoing process of preservation and revival of Khmer traditional music operated by local NGOs, mass media and governmental institutions. Recently, an article on this topic has been published in Moussons 30.

‘Faces of Cambodia: Portraits, Power and Memory'

Joanna Wolfarth (SOAS)

My research explores representational strategies employed to convey forms of Buddhist power, sovereignty and memory in the Cambodian politico-cultural milieu. I work across mediums and time periods, looking at visual culture from Angkor to the contemporary.

Dr Joanna Wolfarth is a specialist in Buddhist art and the cultural history of Cambodia. She received her PhD in Art History from the University of Leeds in 2015 and is currently a Research Associate at the Centre of South East Asian Studies at SOAS University of London. She also teaches on the Modern and Contemporary Asian Art MA at Sotheby’s Institute of Art. She has published in Udaya Journal of Khmer Studies, Southeast of Now and the Trans Asia Photography Review, and also contributed a chapter to the Handbook on Contemporary Cambodia (Routledge, 2016). She has worked on several cultural projects in Cambodia since 2010.

‘Post-conflict Performance in Cambodia: nationality, identity and geopolitics.’

Amanda Rogers (Swansea University)

My current research examines how contemporary Cambodian dance is used to reimagine the production of the Cambodian nation. Much of the reconstruction and revival of Cambodian dance has emphasised narratives of survival and survivors. In contrast, my research examines how a younger generation of dancers are developing new modes of expression. In moving beyond associations with the Khmer Rouge, the contemporary Cambodian dance world navigates a series of issues, including the relationship between nationality and globalisation, the desire among international audiences for Khmer Rouge stories, and issues of self-censorship and social expectation. My work explores these dynamics through a focus on recent dance productions.

Dr Amanda Rogers is an Associate Professor in Human Geography at Swansea University. Her research focuses on the intersections between geography and the performing arts (particularly theatre and dance) and is especially concerned with themes of racial inequality, transnationalism and geopolitics. Her current work focuses on the relationship between dance and nationality in Cambodia, particularly through contemporary modes of expression. However, she is also doing research on the first international tour of Cambodian state dancers to the West after the Khmer Rouge genocide. This work is funded by a British Academy-Leverhulme Trust small grant and examines if, and how, dancers can be considered geopolitical agents navigating issues of cultural diplomacy and development.

PANEL THREE: Commodity Histories, Chains, Geopolitics and Policies

‘Fur, Feathers, Scales and Ivory: Cambodian Wildlife Protection Legislation in International and Regional Perspective’

Ernest Caldwell (SOAS)

This brief presentation has two primary goals.  First, it seeks to clearly demonstrate the threats to Cambodia’s biodiversity, with specific reference to terrestrial wildlife.  Second, it compares Cambodia’s wildlife legislation and conservation policies to such threats with a) the standards established by international environmental treaties to which the country is a Party State, and b) to the wildlife legislation of other member states of ASEAN. This is part of a larger book project examining the diversity of wildlife protection law in Southeast Asia and the continuing ASEAN quest for legal convergence of its member states’ environmental laws.

Dr. Ernest Caldwell [BA, MA, LLM, PhD] is Lecturer in Laws of China and Taiwan for the School of Law at SOAS, University of London. He holds undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in history, Asian studies, and comparative law. He completed is postgraduate legal training in Singapore, specializing in comparative Southeast Asian law. Ernest is currently working on a book project that analyzes the diversity of wildlife-related legislation among ASEAN member states in order to assess the potential for developing a cohesive, regional approach to wildlife protection and conservation.

‘Silk in Contemporary Cambodia: Weaving a History of Survival (1990-2017)’

Magali Berthon (Royal College of Art)

My thesis focuses on the history of silk in contemporary Cambodia as a material, production, and cultural phenomenon since the reopening of the country in the 1990s in a post-conflict context. Artisanal and artistic practices and their human and cultural dimensions, mechanisms of skill transmission in exodus contexts, migration movements and situations of conflict, and Southeast Asian identities are at the heart of my work.

Magali An Berthon is a French Vietnamese textile researcher focusing on Southeast Asian textiles, local craft cultures, and sustainable processes. She is currently a PhD candidate in History of Design at the Royal College of Art in London researching the dynamics of silk heritage in contemporary Cambodia. After earning an MFA in textile design at the National School of Decorative Arts of Paris, she studied textile history and museum practices at the Fashion Institute of Technology of New York on a Fulbright Fellowship in 2014-2015. She continued with a one-year fellowship at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in Curatorial Textiles.

‘Intimate geopolitics of garment work and labour activism in Cambodia’

Sabina Lawreniuk (Royal Holloway)

A seven billion dollar industry. Eight hundred thousand workers. One thousand factories. Three thousand trade unions with 90% female membership yet 90% male leadership. One hundred strikes last year. A ‘model industry’ yet mass faintings. Third sector governance. An authoritarian government that forcibly restricts freedoms of expression, association and assembly. In the fraught, complex context of the Cambodian garment sector, what chance do workers have to challenge big brand buyers for fair pay and working conditions – and which workers?

I am currently (2017-2020) a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London. My Leverhulme project integrates a feminist geopolitical approach to the study of Global Production Networks in geography, through an institutional ethnography exploring work, intersectional inequality and activism in the garment sector in Cambodia.

‘Country For Sale by the Tonne: Charting the commodity chain of contagious sovereignty from Cambodia to Singapore’

Will Jamieson (Royal Holloway)

On the 12th of June 2017, the Cambodian Ministry of Mines and Energy declared a ban on all exports of sand to Singapore. According to the Ministry, Cambodia had exported 12 million tonnes of sand to the city-state since 2007. The city-state declared imports exceeding 72 million tonnes, an appropriate quantity for building land into the sea; or an invasion inverted: a reclamation. In the interim, both countries developed at a ferocious pace, with cities like Phnom Penh acquiring an elite verticality suspiciously reminiscent of Singapore itself. While, for now, the sand itself does not seem to be flowing, all the machinery is in place for it to pick up again, and the traces of this parasitic commodity chain has manifested itself in the most peculiar ways. This presentation will attempt to trace the 'farm-to-table' geography of sand extraction, while lingering on the eerie replication of landscape at either end of the commodity chain.

William Jamieson is a PhD candidate in Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London. His work is concerned with the integration of political geography and literary theory through critical creative writing methods to enhance our understanding of how space is 'read' and 'written' by capital. His  work has been published in the journal GeoHumanities, and his fiction has appeared in Ambit and Myths of the Near Future. His fiction pamphlet, Thirst for Sand, will be published in Autumn 2018 by Goldsmiths Press.