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Intergenerational trauma and young Cambodian perspectives: context, narrative, and agency
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 23:21 authored by Kenneth Vincent Finis
This paper explores the question of intergenerational trauma in Cambodia today. The experience of extreme hardship and loss during the Khmer Rouge regime of 1975-79 was almost ubiquitous. Numerous studies have suggested the potential for ongoing impact upon descendants of trauma survivors, however few have investigated the question within Cambodia itself. The purpose of this paper is to present an emic perspective of whether young Cambodians perceive such a legacy upon themselves or their society. Drawing on ethnographic interviews and participant observation from three months of fieldwork, this paper argues that an exclusively trauma-focused lens is too narrow and that the question must be situated within the context of descendants' lives as a whole. While recognising the effect upon their parents and communities, few respondents saw themselves as experiencing ongoing negative impact themselves and placed an overall higher priority on addressing present-day structural problems. In contrast to the tendency for trauma paradigms to present following generations as passive victims, the young people encountered in this research were found to be highly aspirational for themselves and their society. This paper argues for the importance of recognising the narratives of resilience present within Cambodia, and for supporting and enabling youth to exercise their own agency as a crucial aspect of national healing.