Resistance to Land Grabbing and Displacement in Rural Cambodia | Land Portal

Resource information

Date of publication: 
December 2015
Resource Language: 
ISBN / Resource ID: 
MLRF:2260

In rural Cambodia indiscriminate, illegitimate and often violent land grabs in the form of Economic Land Concessions (ELCs) have triggered myriad local responses by peasants facing evictions from private and communal lands. Drawing on fieldwork in Kratie and Koh Kong provinces, this chapter looks at the various forms of local resistance to government-sanctioned dispossession and displacement and discusses their effectiveness in bringing about socio-political and institutional change. Our case study results do not confirm the predominance of everyday politics as the preferred resistance strategy of peasants, as postulated by Scott (1986) and Kerkvliet (2009) for other Southeast Asian countries. Cambodian peasants have responded to dispossession and displacement by employing a myriad of resistance strategies, ranging from road blockades, open confrontations with security guards and military personnel, demonstration marches and petitions to various forms of advocacy resistance and everyday politics. Their selection from a range of resistance strategies does not follow a clear pattern, but appears to respond to the varying levels and strategies of oppression deployed by government representatives, concessionaires and members of the armed forces. This has created a particular dialectic between domination and resistance, reminiscent of Polanyi’s ‘double-movement’ (Polanyi 1944). In the case of Cambodia this takes the form of a continuous oscillation between forced commodification of natural resources by domestic and foreign elites on the one hand and the combination of overt and covert resistance strategies by the rural peasantry on the other. Yet we also find that these local resistance movements have been mostly desperate, sporadic and atomistic vis-à-vis the powerful coalition of government authorities, concessionaires and the military. Cambodian peasants lack organization across village boundaries as a result of decades of conflict and unrest, and their voices have been ignored by the home governments of the investors, who continue to regard the country as a promising new haven of investment, trade and tourism, where displacement and dispossession of the poor is deemed unavoidable. Unless the rural peasantry in Cambodia finds a common and much stronger voice and gets support from national and international advocacy groups beyond mere lip service, powerful elite interests will continue to prevail over local people’s rights.

Authors and Publishers

Author(s), editor(s), contributor(s): 
Touch, Siphat Neef, Andreas
Publisher(s): 

The International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague is part of the Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR).

It is a graduate institute of policy-oriented critical social science, founded in 1952 and able to draw on sixty years of experience.

ISS is a highly diverse international community of scholars and students from the global south and the north, which brings together people, ideas and insights in a multi-disciplinary setting which nurtures, fosters and promotes critical thinking and conducts innovative research into fundamental social problems.

The Land Deal Politics Initiative (LDPI) is a network of the research programme of Political Economy of Resources, Environment and Population (PER) of the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, Part of Erasmus University Rotterdam.

The aim of LDPI is for a broad framework encompassing the political economy, political ecology and political sociology of land deals.

Our general framework is based on answering 6 key questions:

RCSD logo

The Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development (RCSD) was established in 1998 at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Chiang Mai University, Thailand in response to the need for integration of social science and natural science knowledge in order to gain a better understanding of sustainable development issues in upper mainland Southeast Asia. RCSD has, since that time, striven to become a truly regional center for sustainable development issues, linking graduate training and research to development policy and practice.

The Transnational Institute (TNI) is an international research and advocacy institute committed to building a just, democratic and sustainable world. For more than 40 years, TNI has served as a unique nexus between social movements, engaged scholars and policy makers.

The Transnational Institute (TNI) is an international research and advocacy institute committed to building a just, democratic and sustainable world.

Founded in 1974 as a network of ‘activist scholars’, TNI continues to be a unique nexus between social movements, engaged scholars and policy makers.

Data provider

The Mekong Land Research Forum seeks to bring research and policy a bit closer together. It does this in part by making the research more accessible and in part by helping to distill the key messages and points of debate so that information overload does not overwhelm policy makers and other advocates for progressive policy reform.

Share this page