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The Politics of Gifts: Tradition and Regimentation in Contemporary Cambodia

  • Caroline Hughes (a1)

This paper seeks to elucidate the symbolic and coercive dimensions of gift-giving in contemporary Cambodia. It is argued that gift-giving is enacted in such a way as to make self-conscious references to aspects of Cambodian ‘tradition’, but that these references are less important, in compelling assent, than the overt sense of threat that accompanies the donation of gifts. It is argued that the hitching of traditions of giving to mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion is widely rejected as lacking in any kind of cultural legitimacy, but that there are few opportunities available for the poor to make such rejection explicit. In this circumstance, acceptance of practices of regimentation as ‘traditional’ represents a strategy of surrender, rather than a culturally induced response.

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The fieldwork on which this paper is based was gathered during national election campaigns in 1998 and 2003. Thanks are due to the Leverhulme Trust and the British Academy Committee for Southeast Asian Studies, which gave financial support for this fieldwork. Thanks also to both the Melbourne Institute of Asian Languages and Societies at the University of Melbourne and the Humanities Research Centre at the Australian National University for hosting me as a research fellow during the writing-up process.
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Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0022-4634
  • EISSN: 1474-0680
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-southeast-asian-studies
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