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Erin Collins, ‘Phnom Penh: Capital of the 20th Century’

January 28, 2019 at 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Post-colonial, doubly post-socialist, and post-conflict, Cambodia’s recent past has been punctuated by a series of dramatic social, economic, and political ruptures. Yet, there are also remarkable continuities. For one, the same party has held power for over three decades, through three changes in name and political ideology and across two foreign interventions. In light of these tensions, this paper explores the dissonance between rupture as a periodizing norm and rupture as lived experience. The talk draws together oral historical and archival research to document how people laid claim to property in and around Phnom Penh in the aftermath of the 1979, post-genocide rupture and again following the 1989, post-socialist rupture. It is argued that the prevailing conceptualization of rupture as a break with the past yields a tabula rasa for state power, obscuring the crowded historical terrain within which the differential fortunes of the poor and powerful were co-composed. In place of the opposition of rupture to continuity, the talk builds on Walter Benjamin’s writings on time and temporality to theorize rupture as animated by the two, interacting movements of break—a severing from the past, and amplification —an overflowing of the past in the present. The talk concludes by demonstrating how this reconceptualization matters for the urban precariat in present-day Phnom Penh.

Erin Collins is Assistant Professor at the School of International Service at American University. Her work focuses on the political economy and cultural politics of transformation in Southeast Asian cities. Her current research looks at how people claim and defend space in Cambodia’s capital city of Phnom Penh, in and through moments of political, social and economic remaking. Professor Collins has recent publications in Environment and Planning A and Development and Change. In SIS Professor Collins teaches courses on Geographies of Uneven Development, Critical Social Theory, Development in Theory and History and Qualitative Methods for Studying the City. In her research and teaching Professor Collins draws on post-colonial, critical race, feminist and global urban theory.


January 28, 2019
2:00 pm - 3:00 pm
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FedEx Global Education Center, Room 1009
301 Pittsboro St.
Chapel Hill, NC 27516 United States


Carolina Asia Center
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