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Using data from the French overseas archives in Aix-en-Provence and National archives in Phnom Penh, this study investigates the interplay between colonial and customary processes of justice in historical context in Cambodia. The aim is to explore how aspects of Khmer cosmological order and moral coherence have responded to foreign intervention over time. Individual cases found in official documents and letters are used to identify discrepancies and tensions between the French bureaucratic approach to conflict or offences and that of Cambodian customary justice. This study is relevant to today’s international efforts to create a culture of peace in war-torn settings; recent research and policy for healing fractured society often lack a diachronic perspective and thus overlook the relationship between today’s justice interventions and historical principles of order in the target society. When it misrecognises or disrupts the long-standing indigenous models of order that guide locals, externally driven ‘normalisation’ may inadvertently generate new vulnerabilities. Together with findings from my parallel study of contemporary social healing, the results of this study are intended to enhance understanding of cultural persistence and change.
Funding: Riksbankens Jubileumsfond
Ida Nicolaisen, senior researcher, NIAS
The project is based on a huge data base generated by the author over the past 40 years through long-term and in-depth fieldwork in Sarawak, Malaysia, supplemented with on-going data collection among young people here during annual field visits. The work will be published as a monograph.