Initiating Urban Cultural Studies in Cambodia

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Phnom Penh is one of the world’s most rapidly changing cities – physically, culturally and economically. Government, educational institutions, community groups, NGOs and multilateral and bilateral institutions all focus on these changes that are rapidly affecting this city: whether causing change, measuring change, or both. However, the processes of these transformations remain largely understudied. Existing capacity-building and training activities in Cambodia continue to face difficult challenges in studying the processes which come into play as these miniscule and significant changes manifest themselves. Without a deeper understanding of Cambodia’s largest city, it is difficult to put together a comprehensive policy framework and an institutional structure able to effectively govern it.

For this purpose, a collaborative research and capacity-building project was initiated by the New School University’s Graduate Program in International Affairs, through the Institute of Cultural Entrepreneurship, and the Center for Khmer Studies (CKS). This project provides opportunities for select Cambodian graduate students to initiate small pilot ethnographic studies on different dimensions of emerging urban cultural phenomena in Phnom Penh. These studies are focused on various cultural themes, such as urban youth culture, existing and emerging collective identities and the interaction between various communities in the city. Each of these themes addresses issues that are salient for future urban development strategies, but for which the research base is insufficient. These projects required innovative research methodology and contributed to fostering a network of potential Cambodian researchers specializing in urban culture.

The overarching objective of this project was to provide opportunities for innovative cultural studies of the contemporary urban landscape while building the capacity of Cambodian researchers in this field, consistent with the CKS’s core objective of capacity-building and training. It is hoped that the outcomes will be able to contribute to the field of urban studies on an international scale.