Who is the community? Governing territory through the making of ‘indigenous communities’ in Cambodia

TitleWho is the community? Governing territory through the making of ‘indigenous communities’ in Cambodia
Annotated RecordNot Annotated
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsLeemann E
Secondary TitleGeoforum
Key themesCivilSociety-Donors, Dispossession-grabbing, Formalisation-titling, MarginalisedPeople, Policy-law

For years, the Cambodian state has signed away indigenous peoples’ land to large-scale plantations. At the same time, the state has set up an intricate titling process that would allow indigenous peoples to officially register their land and protect it against dispossession. The Bunong ethnic minority from Bu Sra in Northeast Cambodia started to engage in such a land titling process around ten years ago. When they tried to register as an ‘indigenous community’ with the Ministry of Interior, it became apparent that defining the boundaries of a community is a highly political matter. Bunong villagers, non-profit organization staff and state bureaucrats all engaged in politics of ‘community’ and space-making in this ongoing struggle over territory. Arguing that the process of recognition of community and territory is strongly contested and involves contrasting ontologies of community, place and belonging, I focus on the incommensurability between Bunong notions of legitimate claimants/claims and actual titled communities and territories that legalization produced. I give ethnographic evidence of generational power dynamics, NGO involvement and fraught mapping processes by drawing on concepts of hegemony, consent and refusal. Problematizing the making of indigenous communities for the sake of titling, I discuss the practical and theoretical implications of this process of recognition.


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Document Type

Journal Article