Enduring holocaust, surviving history : displaced Cambodians on the Thai-Camobodian border, 1989-1991 / by Lindsay Cole French.
This thesis looks at the dynamics of social relations in Site II, the largest of several camps built for displaced Cambodians on the Thai-Cambodian border in 1985. The people living in Site II in 1990 had endured four years in Cambodia under the infamous Pol Pot and ten years of civil war on the border following the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge regime. The research was conceived as a study of the effects of great social and cultural trauma on social relations and cultural institutions in a community of survivors. It addresses such questions as: (1) What is the nature of social organization in a post-holocaust situation? (2) What processes do communities go through in the re-establishment of social structures when virtually all prior relationships and institutions have been smashed? (3) What are the enduring effects of an experience like "Pol Pot time" on the social life of a community? (4) What priorities and values organize people's behavior in the aftermath of such an overwhelming devastation? (5) How do the specific circumstances of a refugee camp affect these processes? The thesis begins by exploring, following Appadurai, the particular nature of this 'locality' in 'a globalized deterritorialized world.' It examines several different domains of social life in Site II, including economic relations, political power, family relationships, and spiritual beliefs and practices. It situates Site II in the middle of several arenas of power, at the convergence of multiple interests and agendas that were local, regional, and international in their scope. It suggests that what went on in Site II was a result of the interaction of all of these interests; that there was no hegemonic structure of power and meaning to provide overarching coherence. Rather, there was an essential ambiguity about the meaning of things that was built right into structure of support for the camp population: a political compromise among the Khmer leadership, the Thai government, and the international agencies who provided material assistance. The thesis suggests that in all areas of social life a combination of local needs and conditions and larger, situational truths determined the shape of processes and practices. Enduring processes of reconstruction were difficult to discern, however. Since the border camps were temporary, everything that went on in them was provisional and subject to change. Moreover, the experience of holocaust made it difficult to sustain belief in the possibility of a future worth living. People pursued their own individual efforts to construct order and meaning in their lives, but there was an overall failure of collective social and cultural institutions to provide structure and continuity.
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