Cambodia: The Violence of Law

Simon Springer

Forced Eviction and the Violence of Law: Rethinking Property and (Dis)possession in Cambodia

The unfolding of a legal property-lined system in present-day Cambodia is at odds with local understandings of landholding, which are entrenched in notions of community consensus and existing occupation. The discrepancy between such orally recognized antecedents and the written word of law have been at the heart of the recent wave of dispossessions throughout Cambodia. In contrast to the standard critique that corruption has set the tone, this talk argues that evictions in Cambodia are often literally underwritten by the articles of law. Whereas possession is a well-understood and accepted concept in Cambodia, a cultural basis rooted in what James C. Scott refers to as orality, coupled with a long history of subsistence agriculture, semi-nomadic lifestyles, barter economies and—until recently—widespread land availability have all ensured that notions of property are vague among the country’s majority rural poor. In drawing a firm distinction between possessions and property, where the former is premised upon actual use and the latter is embedded in exploitation, this talk examines how proprietorship is inextricably bound to the violence of law.

Simon Springer, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Victoria, Canada. Prior to this he worked at the University of Otago and the National University of Singapore. Simon’s research agenda explores the political, social, and geographical exclusions that neoliberalization has engendered in post-transitional Cambodia, emphasizing the spatialities of violence and power. He cultivates a cutting edge theoretical approach to his scholarship by foregrounding both poststructuralist critique and a radical revival of anarchist philosophy. He is the author of The Discourse of Neoliberalism: An Anatomy of a Powerful Idea (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), The Anarchist Roots of Geography: Towards Spatial Emancipation (University of Minnesota Press, 2016), Violent Neoliberalism: Development, Discourse and Dispossession in Cambodia (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), and Cambodia’s Neoliberal Order: Violence, Authoritarianism, and the Contestation of Public Space (Routledge, 2010).