School of Geography

Zombie resistance: reanimated activism under authoritarianism in Cambodia's clothing industry

Wednesday 21st October 2020 (13:00-14:00)
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With Sabina Lawreniuk, University of Nottingham.

This is an online seminar and all are welcome. Please contact for the link.

Part of the Economic Worlds Seminar Series.

In January 2014, hundreds of thousands of workers took to Cambodia’s streets to demand wage rises in the clothing and footwear sector. Dispersed using lethal force when five workers were killed by military police, the longer-term response of the state to workers’ dissent was the passing of the Law on Trade Unions in 2016. The coupling of the state’s physical intimidation with the legal violence welded by the new law creates a civil society environment for workers that now ranks among the ‘most hostile’ (ITUC 2018) in the region.

In this paper, I draw from a three-year institutional ethnography of the Cambodian labour movement to elaborate the contentious legal geographies of the rise of authoritarian neoliberalism in Cambodia through a study of the Law on Trade Unions. I show how the Law on Trade Unions extends existing rule-by-law strategies in an attempt insulate the state from workers’ frustration with Cambodia’s uneven development. However, this apparent strengthening of the state simultaneously engenders its growing fragility as it becomes the increasingly direct target of a zombie resistance no longer shackled within disciplining trade union channels. By highlighting the entanglements of everyday activism and state efforts to contain dissent, I highlight the contradictions that underpin the entrenchment of Cambodia’s authoritarian regime.

School of Geography

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