Mekong Region Land Governance Project

Struggles for Life: Smallholder Farmers’ Resistance and State Land Relations in Contemporary Cambodia

Struggles for Life: Smallholder Farmers’ Resistance and State Land Relations in Contemporary Cambodia
Struggles revolving around questions of land access and control occupy a central place in the political and social life of contemporary Cambodia. In this study, we examine three cases of struggles against economic [State] land concessions. In a context of unequal power distribution among the actors involved, we elicit the place of the peasantry and its agency to resist and engage in negotiations with multi-level State authorities and market actors. We show how conflict management occurs through hybrid institutions to produce contingent rules that are specific outcomes of the negotiation between actors. Despite the shrinking space of contestation in Cambodia, these contingent rules reveal that opportunities for negotiation can be created for smallholder farmers to protect their land resources. Beyond the specificities of each particular conflict transformation trajectory, we also argue that State land management is a dynamic process that combines a calculus by authorities to retain social legitimacy and reproduce their sovereign power in respect of land.

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