The “perfect failure” of communal genocide commemoration in cambodia: Productive friction or “bone business”?

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Drawing on participant observation at communal sites of genocide memory and ethnographic interviews with villagers, monks, and nongovernmental organization stakeholders, I longitudinally trace (over a five-year period) the localization of Euro-Western genocide commemoration in the Cambodian landscape. Hybrid Khmer-Western communal memorials that display victim remains and promote genocide pedagogy signify elite capitulation to Western cosmopolitan memory and reap the rewards of atrocity tourism. Despite the facade of successful localization, my data point to elite and nonelite resistance to cosmologically dangerous or semiotically meaningless commemorative practice and to the failure of hybrid memorialization. A close reading of Cambodian Buddhist conceptualizations of memory, commemoration, and relations between living and dead reveals how and why facades of localization culturally work to sustain simulacra of engaged universals, creating a “perfect failure” of global-local translation. My findings problematize the globalization of a Holocaust model of commemoration and the human right and duty to remember as a pillar of global genocide pedagogy in today’s postconflict memoryscapes. I consider implications for understandings of intercultural friction and the productive dynamism of global-local encounters while deconstructing contemporary anthropological frames that occlude critique of global-local engagement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)304-334
Number of pages31
JournalCurrent Anthropology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All rights reserved.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology


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