By Gea Wijers
Special to Khmerican
Amsterdam, the Netherlands – My name is Gea Wijers, and I am a Ph.D. candidate at the Vrije University Amsterdam, the Netherlands / Cambodia Research Group. For the last three years, I have been conducting a study called “Navigating a river by its bends: A study on returnees’ contributions to the progress of Cambodia.”
Funded by the NWO-WOTRO Science for Development organization, our research group is working on an integrated program titled “Competing hegemons: Foreign dominated processes of development in Cambodia.” This program’s strategy is based on building capacity in Cambodian higher education, in a partnership between the Faculty of Social Sciences of the VU University Amsterdam and the Royal University of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Most of my academic colleagues are Cambodians who conduct fieldwork in their home country and work as lecturers at Cambodian institutions on the side. Please check out our website if you would like to know more about my colleagues and our research experiences in Cambodia.
You may wonder why a Dutch person decided to focus on Cambodian communities. To me, however, it seemed the only natural thing to do. After spending two years in Cambodia as a strategy and management advisor in the Ministry of Environment, Cambodia had become part of me, and I wanted to find a way to contribute to its progress in a more meaningful way. Already, these personal experiences in Cambodia have provided the material for a Dutch blog and a Dutch and English book. But I hope the findings of my research will help people make sense of their experiences upon return as well as be considered by policy makers when designing resettlement, remigration and citizenship policies.
The dissertation will be finished by February 2013. By sharing some of the material with you on this site, aside from raising awareness, I hope to also receive preliminary feedback to improve my analysis.
To give you an idea: fieldwork findings seem to confirm that voluntary return of former refugees, and their possible contributions upon return, should be described by taking full account of distinct characteristics that set it apart from remigration by migrants. As Rodicio (2001) has proposed, for Cambodia this consists of the experiences of repatriation, reintegration and reconciliation leading toward a true restoration of life. Case studies show that Cambodian returnees’ contributions to the progress of Cambodia, although transnational, need to find firm grounding in the Cambodian institutional context. The emancipatory character of their work produces very mixed results. Findings thus propose that the dynamics of return are more complex than would be expected from prominent literature on transnationalism focusing on its “unembedded” nature and the simultaneity of transformational influence in multiple sites (for example, see Glick & Schiller, 1994, 1995; Levitt, 2001; Portes et al., 2007).
A step back in history
The turbulence of a civil war (1970-1975), the Khmer Rouge takeover (1975-1979), and the Vietnamese intervention (1979-1989) forced many Cambodians into exile. Among the nations offering refuge, America and France stand out for the number of Indochinese refugees who were accepted for resettlement (Chan, 2004; Ong, 2003). Decades after these conflicts, the first generations of refugees from these countries, among others, are re-resettling in Cambodia, according a 1991 report by the Center for Policy Analysis and Research on Refugee Issues. This first repatriating generation has combined the personal experiences of pre-conflict Cambodia and a prolonged stay in countries of exile with the process of “getting reacquainted” with a post-conflict Cambodia that suffers from widespread corruption and is often characterized as a hybrid democracy and a fragile state (Becker, 1998; Un, 2005).
My doctoral research explores the return of Cambodian refugees to their native country and their personal experiences in trying to “do good,” working toward the development of Cambodia. It grew out of an observation I made while working at the Ministry of Environment; I kept wondering why Cambodian American and Cambodian French returnees employed different strategies in working in Cambodia. Why does the first group often start non-government organizations (NGO) and the latter prefer working for the Cambodian government? Translated into a research design, the question under scrutiny is thus: In what ways do first-generation Cambodian French and Cambodian American returnees evaluate the employment of transnational networks in their contributions to the progress of Cambodia?
The Ph.D. research was designed as an ethnographic, multi-sited, embedded case study comparing Cambodian French and Cambodian American returnees’ narrativizations of their experiences in exile and upon return (Marcus, 1997; Schweizer et al., 1997; Yin, 1994).
Ethnography offers a holistic approach to cultural systems, attempting to describe their social contexts and political meanings. For these descriptions to allow for inferences that go beyond the particular observations collected, they need to fulfill requirements of unbiasedness, efficiency, and consistency (King et al, 1994). Ethnographic methods were considered most pertinent for data collection with key informants and individual community members in multiple sites: Lyon, France; Long Beach, California; and Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
The major aim of comparative research is to identify similarities and differences between social entities contributing to theory formation. It’s all about perspective. The comparative method is fundamentally a case-oriented, small-N technique. It is typically used when researchers have substantial knowledge of each case included in an investigation and there is a relatively small number of cases (Przeworkski and Teune, 1970).
For this multi-sited comparison, the classic triangular interdependence between three parties, the returnee, the overseas ethnic community, and homeland society was taken a starting point. The returnees’ contributions to the progress of Cambodia are traced from, firstly, their experiences in exile to, secondly, the resources available in their transnational networks to, thirdly, their life upon return to Cambodia.
An embedded case is characterized by the idea that cases can only be understood in their social context; thus, next to analysis of an individual case, a case study will include contextual analysis to come to an integrated overview. In my research this is accomplished by:
• presenting “narrativizations” of personal experiences that are an important part of the ongoing construction of returnees’ reality
• evaluating field-level conditions that may restrain or enable the use of resources available in transnational networks
In contrast to personal “narratives,” a continuous story from beginning to end, a narrativization focuses on particular experiences. Narrative interviews are much like conversations that both the interviewer/listener and the narrator/interviewee engage in as participants (Mishler, 1986). Narrativizations may evolve naturally from a semi-structured interview in response to focused questions. Issues are approached here through conversation and narrativization in order to obtain not only comparable information about past actions in multiple sites, but also to infuse them with meaning (Kohler Riessman, 1993).
The multi-sitedness thus resulted in a form of juxtaposition of phenomena that conventionally would appear to be “worlds apart” while overcoming the agency-structure dichotomy so often prevalent in conventional sociological research (Marcus, 1995: 100-102).
Please see the list of references for information about the literature the research builds upon. Having now provided this orientation, selections from my research will be published periodically at Khmerican.com.
My thanks go out to the wonderful people I have been allowed to spend time with over the last several years in France, the U.S., and Cambodia and for all their contributions to this research. Words cannot express how much I have appreciated the ways you have shared your stories. I hope I can do them justice.
Anderson, Benedict (1983, rev.ed. 1991) Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, London: Verso.
Anderson, Benedict (1998) ‘Long-Distance Nationalism’, in Anderson, Benedict (ed) The Spectre of Comparison: Nationalism, Southeast Asia and the World. London: Verso, 58-74.
Becker, Elizabeth (1998) When the War Was over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Bloemraad, Irene (2006) Becoming a citizen. Incorporating immigrants and refugees in the United States and Canada. Berkeley L.A. and London: University of California Press.
Bovenkerk, Frank (1982) “Why Returnees generally do not turn out to be ‘Agents of Change’: The Case of Surinam”, in: Stinner, William F., De Albuquerque, Klaus and Bryce-Laporte, Bryce S. (eds) Return Migration and Remittances: Developing a Carribean Perspective, RIIES Occassional Papers no. 3, Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC.
Breton, Raymond (1964) ‘Institutional completeness of ethnic communities and the personal relations of immigrants’, in: American Journal of Sociology, 70 (2): 193-205.
Brown, MacAllister and Joseph J. Zasloff (1998) Cambodia confounds the peacemakers, 1979-1998. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.
Cambodian Center for Human Rights, joint report (September 2010) Cambodia gagged: Democracy at risk? Report on freedom of Expression in Cambodia, Phnom Penh.
Cambodge Soir (2011) ‘Khmers de France’, 14 September, 8. Center for Policy Analysis and Research on Refugee issues (October 1991)A time for return, reconciliation and reconstruction, Refugee Policy Group: Washington D.C..
Chan, Sucheng (ed.) (2003) Not Just Victims. Conversations with Cambodian Community Leaders in the United States. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
Chan, Sucheng (2004) Survivors. Cambodian Refugees in the United States. Illinois: University of Illinois Press.
Chandler, David (2007, 4th ed.) A history of Cambodia, New York: Basic Books
Cohen, Robin (1997) Global Diasporas. An introduction. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.
Coleman, Cynthia M. (1990) ‘Cambodians in the United States’, in Ablin, David A. and Marlowe Hood (eds.) The Cambodian Agony. New York: M.E. Sharpe Inc., 354-374.
Committee for Free and Fair Elections (COMFREL) (2006) Directory of the Third National Assembly (2004-2008). Phnom Penh: COMFREL.
Committee for Free and Fair Elections (COMFREL) (2009) Directory of the Fourth National Assembly (2008-2013). Phnom Penh: COMFREL.
Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (2011) Directory of Cambodian NGOs 2010-2011. Phnom Penh: CCC.
Davids, Tine and Van Houte, Marieke (2008) ‘Development and Mixed Embeddedness: An Agenda for Qualitative Research?’, International Journal on Multicultural Societies, 10 (2), 169-193.
De Haas, Hein (2006) Engaging Diasporas. How governments and development agencies can support diaspora involvement in the development of origin countries. Oxford: International Migration Institute.
Eastmond, Marita (April 2007) ‘Reconstruction and the Politics of Homecoming: Repatriation of Refugees in Cambodia’, Working Paper No. 1, Department of Social Anthropology, Göteborg University, 248-264.
Ebihara, May, Carol Mortland and Judy Ledgerwood (eds.)(1994) Cambodian culture since 1975. Homeland and exile. New York: Cornell University Press.
Edwards, Penny (2007) Cambodge. The Cultivation of a Nation 1860-1945, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
Emirbayer, Mustafa (1997) ‘Manifesto for a relational sociology’, American Journal of Sociology, 103 (2): 281-317.
Fennema, Meindert (May 2004) ‘The concept and measurement of ethnic community’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Vol. 30 (3), 429-447.
Flyvbjerg, Bent (2006) ‘Five misunderstandings about case-study research’, Qualitative Inquiry, 12 (2), 219-245.
Frieson, Kate (1996) ‘The politics of getting the vote in Cambodia’, in: Ledgerwood, Judy (ed.) Propaganda, Politics, and Violence in Cambodia: Democratic Transition under United Nations Peace-Keeping, Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe Publishers.
Gilles, Claude (2004) Cambodgiens, Laotiens, Vietnamiens de France : regard sur leur intégration, Paris: Éditions L’Harmattan,
Glick Schiller, Nina, Basch, Laura and Szanton Blanc, Cristina (eds) (1992) Towards a transnational perspective on Migration: Race, Class, Ethnicity and Nationalism reconsidered, New York: New York Academy of Sciences.
Gold, Steven J. (1992) Refugee communities. A comparative field study, Newbury Park: Sage Publications.
Goodman, Leo A. (1961) ‘Snowball sampling’, Annals of Mathematical Statistics, 32 (1): 148–170.
Gottesman, Evan (2004) Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge. Inside the politics of nation building, New Haven & London: Yale University Press.
Granovetter, Mark S. (1973) ‘The Strength of Weak Ties’, The American Journal of Sociology, 78 (6), 1360-1380.
Granovetter, Mark S. (1985) ‘Economic action and Social Structure: the problem of embeddedness’, The American Journal of Sociology, 91 (3), 481-510.
Guerassimoff, Carine (2003) ‘The new Chinese migrants in France’, International Migration, vol. 41 (3), 134-154.
Guillon, Claude (1988) ‘Le SSAE: soixante ans d’accueil des réfugiés’, in: Revue Europeénne des Migrations Internationales, Vol. 4 (1&2), 115-127.
Guillou, Anne Yvonne (2001) Les Médècins au Cambodge. Entre élite sociale traditionelle et groupe professional moderne sous influence étrangère. These pour l’obtention du grade docteur de l’EHESS, Paris: Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales.
Gunn, Geoffrey C. and Jefferson Lee (1991) Cambodia Watching Down Under. A critical view of Western Scholarship and Journalism on Cambodia since 1975, Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University, IAS Monographs no. 047, Bangkok.
Hassoun, Jean-Pierre and Yinh Phong Tan (1986) ‘Les Chinois de Paris: minorité culturelle ou constellation ethnique?’, in: Terrain. Revue d’Ethnologie de l’ Europe, (7).
Horowitz, Donald L. and Gérard Noiriel (eds.) (1992) Immigrants in two democracies. French and American Experience, New York: New York University press.
Hughes, Caroline (2002) ‘International Intervention and the People’s Will: The Demoralization of Democracy in Cambodia’, in: Critical Asian Studies, 34 (4), 539-562.
Hughes, Caroline and Kheang Un (eds) (2011) Cambodia’s Economic Transformation, Copenhagen: NIAS Press.
Khoa, Le Xuan, and Bui, Diana D. (1985). ‘Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Associations: An Approach for Community Development’, in: Owan, T.C. (ed.) Southeast Asian Mental Health: Treatment, Prevention, Services, Training, and Research, Washington D.C: National Institute of Mental Health.
Kilduff, Martin and Kevin G. Corley (1999) ‘The Diaspora Effect: The influence of exiles on their cultures of origin’ in: Management, 2 (1), 1-12.
Kloosterman, Robert (2006). Mixed embeddedness as a conceptual framework for exploring immigrant entrepreneurship, Eurex nr. 8, Amsterdam: Amsterdam Institute of Metropolitan and International Development Studies.
Landolt, Patricia (2001). ‘Salvadoran economic transnationalism: embedded strategies for household maintenance, immigrant incorporation, and entrepreneurial expansion’, Global Networks 1 (3), 217-241.
Ledgerwood, Judy (1990) ‘Portrait of a Conflict: Exploring changing Khmer-American Social and Political Relationships’, Journal of Refugee Studies, Vol. 3 (2), 135-154.
Ledgerwood, Judy (2009) Understanding Cambodia: Social Hierarchy, Patron-Client Relationships and Power. Course Notes. Available at: http://www.seasite.niu.edu/khmer/Ledgerwood/patrons
Levitt, Peggy (2001) ‘Transnational Migration: taking stock and future directions’, in: Global Networks, 1 (3), 195-216.
Levitt, Peggy and Nina Glick Schiller (2004) ‘Conceptualizing Simultaneity: A Transnational Social Field Perspective on Society’, in: International Migration Review, 38 (3), 1002-39.
Long, Lynellyn D. and Ellen Oxfeld (2004) Coming Home? Refugees, Migrants, and those who stayed behind, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Mariani, Léo (2012, forthcoming) Identités narratives et identifications sensible. Reconstruction et mise en perspective de quelques itineraries de migrants franco-cambodgiens de seconde generation à Phnom Penh. Marseille: REMI
Markowitz, Fran and Stefansson, Anders H. (eds)(2004) Homecomings. Unsettling paths of return. Idaho: Lanham/Lexington Books
Martiniello, Marco (2002). Leadership et pouvoir dans les communautés d’origine immigrée, Paris: Éditions L’Harmattan
Mazzucato, Valentina (2007) ‘Simultaneity and networks in transnational Migration: lessons learned from an SMS methodology’, in: DeWind, J. and Holdaway, J. (eds.) Migration and Development within and across borders, Geneva: International Organization for Migration.
Mey, Elyda (Juillet 2007) Le rôle de la diaspora dans la justice transitionnelle: l’exemple du Cambodge, New York: International
Center for Transitional Justice.
Meslin, Karine (2006) ‘Accueil des boat people: une mobilization atypique’, Plein Droit, numéro 70, Octobre 2006, 36-39.
Mignot, Michel (ed.) (1984) Les réfugiés originaires de l’Asie du Sud-Est : monographies, Paris: Centre de documentation et de recherche sur l’Asie du Sud-Est et le monde insulindien du Centre national de la recherche scientifique et de l’École des hautes études en sciences socials.
Mikkelsen, Britha (2005) Methods for Development Work and Research. New Delhi, Thousand Oaks, London: Sage Publications.
Moya, Jose C. (2005) ‘Immigrants and Associations: A global and historical perspective’, in: Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 31(5): 833-864.
Mysliwiec, Eva (1988) Punishing the poor: the international isolation of Kampuchea (translated), Oxfam, Oxford
Nann, Stéphanie (2009) ‘Les Familles Cambodgiennes en France: histories de vie et reconstruction’, Dialogue 2009/3, nr. 185, 55-66.
Nicholls, Natalie C. (2007) ‘The Chinese of Paris and Montréal: comparative analysis of two communities with immigration issues’ Canadian review of sociology and anthropology, vol. 44 (3), 345 -360.
Noiriel, Gérard (1988) Le creuset français. Histoire de l’immigration (XIXe – Xxe siècles), Paris: Le Seuil.
Office Français de Protection des Refugiés et Apatrides (OFPRA)(2009) Brochure “Histoire de l’OFPRA”, available at http:// www.ofpra.gouv.fr/index.html?xml_id=108&dtd_id=11 (last accessed 25 October 2009)
Ong, Aihwa (2003) Buddha Is Hiding. Refugees, Citizenship, the New America, California Series in Public Anthropology, 5, Berkeley, University of California.
Pape, Eric (2011) ‘The Lonely War. The California accountant who tried to overthrow a foreign despot’, in: Los Angeles Times, 5 mei.
Poethig, Kathryn (1997) Cambodian Americans and Dual Citizenship in Phnom Penh, Dissertation, Berkeley, University of California.
Poethig, Kathryn (2006) ‘Sitting between two chairs: Cambodia’s dual citizenships debate’, in: Leakthina Chau-Pech Ollier and Timothy Winter (eds) Expressions of Cambodia, London: Routledge.
Portes, Alejandro (1998) ‘Social Capital: Its Origins and Applications in Modern Sociology’, Annual Review of Sociology, 24 (1), 1-14.
Portes, Alejandro (2008) ‘Migration and Social change. Some conceptual reflections’, Keynote address to the conference on Theorizing Key Migration Debates, 1 July, Oxford University.
Portes, Alejandro and Josh DeWind (2008, first published 2007)Rethinking Migration. New Theoretical and Empirical Perspectives. New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books.
Portes, Alejandro and Julia Sensenbrenner(1993) ‘Embeddedness and Immigration: Notes on the social determinants of Economic Action’, The American Journal of Sociology, (1998) 6, 1320-1350.
Portes, Alejandro, Luis Eduardo Guarnizo and Patricia Landolt (1999) ‘The study of transnationalism: pitfalls and promises of an emergent research field’, in: Ethnic and Racial Studies, 22 (2): 217-37.
Prak, Vath (1992) La Communauté Khmère dans l’ombre. Les difficulties rencontrées pas les Refugiés Cambodgiens pour leur installation en France, Université Lyon ll, Institut de Formation aux Pratiques Psychologiques, Sociologiques et Éducatives. Thèse de Troisième cycle.
Roberts, David (2002) ‘Democratization, Elite Transition, and Violence in Cambodia,1991-1999’, Critical Asian Studies 34(4), 520-528.
Robinson, Courtland W. (1998) Terms of Refuge. The indochinese exodus and the international response. London, New York: Zed Books Ltd.
Rodicio, Ana Garcia (2001) ‘Restoration of life: A new theoretical approach to voluntary repatriation based on a Cambodian Experience to Return’, International Journal of Refugee Law, 13 (1/2), 123-141.
Scalabrino, Camille (1986, cop. 1985) Cambodge: histoire et enjeux : 1945-1985, Éditions L’Harmattan, Paris.
Schüttler, Kirsten (2006) ‘The Contribution of Migrant Organisations to Income-Generating Activities in their Countries of Origin’, Working Paper no. 50, International Labour Office Geneva.
Schweizer, Thomas, Per Hage, Frank Harary, Michael Housemann, Susan Kent and Alvin W. Wolfe (1997) ‘Embeddedness of Ethnographic Cases: A Social Networks Perspective’, in: Current Anthropology, 38 (5), 739-760.
Shain, Yossi (1999) Marketing the American Creed Abroad, Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press.
Smith, Michael Peter and Guarnizo, Luis Eduardo (eds) (2002, 3rd edition, 1998, first edition). Transnationalism from Below, Comparative Urban and Community Research, Volume 6, Transaction Publishers.
Smith-Hefner, Nancy (1999) Khmer American: Identity and Moral Education in a Diasporic Community. Berkeley, USA: University of California Press.
Sussman, Nann M. (2011) Return migration and identity. A global phenomenon, a Hong Kong case. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
Tilly, Charles (1986) ‘Transplanted Networks’, in: Yans McLaughlin (ed.) Immigration Reconsidered: History, Sociology and Politics, New York: Oxford University Press.
Tsuda, Takeyuki (2003) Strangers in the Ethnic homeland: Japanese Brazilian return migration in transnational perspective, New York: Columbia University Press.
Tsuda, Takeyuki (ed.) (2009) Diasporic Homecomings. Ethnic Return Migration in Comparative Perspective. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Um, Khatarya (2006a) ‘Political Remittances: Diasporas in Conflict and Post-conflict Situations’, in: Smith, H. and Stares, P. (eds) Diasporas in Conflict: Peacemakers or peace wreckers, Washington: United Nations University Press, 253-280.
Um, Khatarya (2006b) ‘Diasporic Nationalism, Citizenship and Post-War Reconstruction’, in: Refuge. Canada’s periodical on refugees, Vol. 23(2): 8-19.
Um, Khatarya (2006c) ‘Refractions of Home’, in: Leakthina Chau-Pech Ollier and Timothy Winter (eds) Expressions of Cambodia, London and New York: Routledge, 86-101.
Un, Kheang (2005) Patronage Politics and hybrid democracy: political change in Cambodia, 1993-2003, Illinois: University of Illinois.
US Census 2000, available at www.census.gov (last accessed February 2012).
Vertovec, Steven (2001) ‘Transnationalism and identity’, in: Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 27 (4):573-582.
Waldinger, Roger (2008) ‘Between “here” and “there”: Immigrant cross-border activities and loyalties’, International Migration Review, 42 (1), 3-29.
Waldinger, Roger and David Fitzgerald (2004) ‘Transnationalism in Question’, The American Journal of Sociology, 109(5), 1177-95.
Wijers, Gea (2011). The Reception of Cambodian Refugees in France, in: Journal of Refugee Studies, 24 (2), 239-255.
Wijers, Gea (2012, forthcoming) ‘Social Adaptation through Cambodian American community organization. Inside stories from the Long Beach refugee community’.
Yeung, Henry Wai-Chung (2002) ‘Entrepreneurship in international business: An institutional perspective’, in: Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 19: 29-61.
Yin, Robert K. (1994, 2nd ed.) Case study research. Design and Methods, Thousand Oaks, California: Sage publications.
Zussman, Robert (2004) ‘People in Places’, in: Qualitative Sociology, 27 (4): 351-362.