Living on the Margins

Minorities and Borderlines in Cambodia and Southeast Asia


Written by Peter J. Hammer (University of California).

Cambodia is undergoing dramatic political, economic and social changes, placing new pressures on minority groups and vulnerable peoples. Some changes are driven by Cambodia's uniquely troubled history. Other forces are global, affecting Cambodia and all other nations in the region. This essay introduces a volume of edited papers presented at an International Conference in Siem Reap, Cambodia, sponsored by the Center for Khmer Studies with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation as part of their Capacity Building in Cambodian Higher Education Program.

Important insights can be gained by looking at the lives of those living on the margins. An appreciation of margins, minorities and borderlines teaches a number of object lessons, but it also suggests an enlightening method of analysis. Margins identify fault lines, demarcating borders where powerful tectonic plates rub against each other, whether these plates represent conflicting social institutions or the forces of transcendent, but ill-defined processes like nation-building, economic development or globalization. Engaging the lives of real people caught on these margins can lead to new understandings of the often invisible forces shaping and reshaping Cambodia and the region.

The problems of ethnic groups are one concern. Transnational and cross-border influences are creating new challenges and opportunities for ethnic minorities. The Cham and other Muslim communities are reconnecting to international Islam. Labor markets cross national boundaries. Vietnamese migrant workers travel to Cambodia, as Cambodian workers travel to Thailand. International loans, agencies and programs targeting "development," itself an often disruptive cross-border force, are transforming many Cambodian institutions and redefining traditional social margins in the process. This clash of forces is most profoundly felt by the indigenous peoples of the northeast, but the papers also examine other minorities and vulnerable groups who have been systematically denied access to important social resources. Theories of social exclusion teach that the landless, street children, victims of domestic violence and gay and lesbian persons are on the margins of different Cambodian institutions and that borders are not only of a geographic nature.

  • 304 pages
  • Paperback
  • Language: English
  • Published in: 2009
  • Published by: Center for Khmer Studies