Civil Society in Cambodia

Challenges and Contestations

Authored by: Louise Coventry

The Handbook of Contemporary Cambodia

Print publication date:  September  2016
Online publication date:  September  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138831186
eBook ISBN: 9781315736709
Adobe ISBN: 9781317567837


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Within the contemporary literature, a romantic view seems to dominate analyses of Southeast Asian civil societies (Hewison and Rodan 2012). This view manifests itself in – often naïve – initiatives to strengthen civil society (Aspinall and Weiss 2012). Donor discourse and practice, for example, reifies civil society as a natural and historically inevitable component of a developed capitalist economy, capable of engendering increased democracy. Compounding the problem, donors fund civil society as if it is an unproblematic given. The romantic view needs to be problematized to better understand civil societies in Southeast Asia. The distinction between the public and private sphere does not translate well to Southeast Asia. Both top-down and bottom-up models of civil society need to be adjusted to account for the nuances that are found within Southeast Asia. Civil societies in Southeast Asia – and elsewhere – are sometimes a force for contention, not for civility or democratization (Schak and Hudson 2003). 1 More radically, some theorists go so far as to suggest that civil society is a neo-colonial project driven by global elites in their own interests (Sen 2007).

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