Friday, August 7, 2009

It's official!

I have a Masters in Anthropology with First Class Honours. The results are in, published, and on the record. I just can't describe to you how challenging, complex and rewarding this process was... but now it's done. Well... not really. The research won't ever be put to bed: if the thesis is good, it should live on in the communities out of which it was inspired. It will be talked to, argued against, referenced, and hopefully treasured by some.

There are many people who were fundamental to my health, head and heart in finishing the damn thing. Friends, family, supervisors and the Cambodian communities of Auckland, you know who you are and I endlessly thank you. Extra special mention to Clancy, Christine and Chakara. What's with the 'C' names? Whoa funny.

Briefly, it's about this:
Settling in radically new places after the Cambodian genocide has presented many challenges to the (re)establishment of the moral codes that once ordered Khmer families and communities. I consider how diasporic Khmer living in Auckland, New Zealand, seek to provide their children with moral environments that support a transnational Khmer socialisation. Following Kleinman (1995, 1999) I consider “what is at stake” for the individuals whose voices, thoughts and actions are the foundation stones of this research. This phrase “what is at stake” encompasses the diverse strivings and needs for status, material resources, survival and identity, which even in our entanglements with greater global flows remain most dense within the local. The making of moral beings is shaped by the tension played out between these moral localities and the abstract ideals that envelop them. I draw upon anthropological theories of embodiment, memory and transnationalism to interpret the moralities that order Cambodian personhood and the passages between these and the identities that Cambodian New Zealanders traverse.

Parents wishing to bring up their children as good Cambodian people, attempt to do so, by reanimating and attempting to reanimate continuities with the past. Efforts to restore the orders of family, Buddhism and community in their Auckland neighbourhoods lend coherence to moral practices mediated by collective memory and new identity formations in the diaspora. Young people unconsciously and consciously embody these attempts at continuity as well as the contestations and contradictory elements that accompany these identity making processes.

The thesis has two parts: Part One lays out the theoretical groundwork, gives a historical background to Cambodian experiences of war and resettlement and concludes with a consideration of key components of Khmer moralities both in the past and present. In Part Two, the ethnographic foundation, I look at three things: how, in taking part in activities in and around the Cambodian Buddhist temple, Khmer engage with each other on a number of moral levels, the influence of Cambodian karaoke on socialisation and, finally, how varying returns to Cambodia can reinvigorate identity.

This thesis ultimately becomes a reflection on ways of returning when one cannot, in fact, ever return as one would hope. So, in attending the temple, in inhabiting the world of karaoke sentimentality and by the actual return to Cambodia for holidays, Cambodian adults journey between home and homeland, simultaneously constructing and refreshing moral environments through which the younger generations navigate.

If you'd like to read it, email me.



  1. Very proud Mum here. Jess this achievement is all down to you, the way you see the world and the people in it, the way you connect with those people be it friends family or the people on the streets. You do this through photos, words, and with your interactions. Time now to build on all these things.

  2. hear hear!
    congratulations Jess. so much.
    from me.