Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Anthropology, University of Hawaii

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2005
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, Yale University
Garden Variety Histories of Genocide: Development and Agriculture among the Jarai of Northeast Cambodia

Although much recent scholarship has asserted that development schemes justify themselves through 'high modernist' ideologies and through discourses that privilege technocratic expertise, when one looks carefully at localized conflicts over 'development,' one finds they are often essentially arguments about the past. Thus in Cambodia the remembrance of genocide and war has become a valuable political resource within the field of development. This project investigates the ways that memory of genocide is deployed in agricultural development initiatives among the Phnong ethnic minority group of Northeast Cambodia. Seeking legitimacy for a series of interventions into rural lives, NGOs and government agencies there propose 'development' as a response to Cambodia's violent past. Yet how are these forms of legitimation understood by highland farmers themselves? Faced with a series of agricultural transformations which they often oppose, how do Phuong villagers redirect these narratives? I suggest that they, too, make reference to their collective experience of genocide in this effort. If so, .how do alternative understandings of the past gain acceptance among highland farmers? And to what end do Phnong farmers engage in these narrative tactics? Are they successful in suggesting that alternative understandings of history necessitate alternative forms of development? Answering these questions requires attention to the ways that memory of genocide is invoked in day to day encounters between development agents and their 'target population.' It also requires investigating how communities remember. In the case of the Phnong, I suggest that Phnong agricultural fields are themselves historical documents of sorts. Research on Phnong understandings of the past will thus begin with research on the history of cultivars in use in the agricultural system, using investigation into agricultural history as a starting point for a broader effort to trace recent social history.