Ethnic Identities in Cambodia

Authored by: Alvin Cheng-Hin Lim

The Handbook of Contemporary Cambodia

Print publication date:  September  2016
Online publication date:  September  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138831186
eBook ISBN: 9781315736709
Adobe ISBN: 9781317567837


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This chapter will focus on the historical construction of Cambodia’s ethnic identities, ranging from the pre-colonial to the post-revolutionary period, with a focus on the Khmer majority and key minorities including the Cham, the Chinese, the Vietnamese, and the Thai. Before this discussion, however, the chapter will first consider the notions of ethnicity and identity. Brubaker and Cooper note that identity is not just a category of analysis, but is also a category of practice, with “political entrepreneurs” deploying particular understandings of identity “to persuade certain people that they are (for certain purposes) ‘identical’ with one another and at the same time different from others, and to organize and justify collective action” (2000, 4–5). Brubaker returns to this notion of identity formation to admonish the social analyst to see ethnicity not as a given, but as a product of ethnicization, a process with “political, social, cultural and psychological” dimensions, through which collectivities of individuals are reified as ethnic groups, sometimes through the intervention of “ethnopolitical entrepreneurs” (2002, 167). This chapter will follow this notion of ethnicity and identity as processes of group construction.

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