The politics of glocalised post-traumatic emotion worlds and the limits of cambodian therapeutic subjectivity

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This article traces the way in which a local Cambodian NGO disseminates psychological therapeutic discourse and practice in post-genocide Cambodia potentially laying the constitutive ground for a Cambodian therapeutic subject. Ethnographic interviews with Cambodian interlocutors allow for an examination of Cambodian perceptions of newly disseminated Euro-Western (EW) therapeutic practices and an evaluation of the potential friction between Buddhist Khmer ethnopsychological emotional styles and EW therapeutic emotional styles. Findings point to diverse mechanisms circulating therapeutic subjectivity including rural psychological pedagogy, testimony therapy and a hybrid local-global trauma construct – baksbat-trauma. Baksbat (broken courage)-trauma syncretises Cambodian ethnopsychological and EW psychological understandings of fear, emotional distress and healing. Ethnographic lay Cambodian accounts present cultural friction between the EW therapeutic model and the Cambodian Buddhist/ethnopsychological model. Tacit Cambodian emotional styles include Buddhist avoidance of and resistance to EW emotional working through of and therapeutic talk about past suffering and public memory work. Compared with EW trauma-related fear, the semantic fields of baksbat cannot be disentangled from political and economic structural violence perceived as the root cause of distress nor from Buddhist acceptance and avoidance as a pragmatic and adaptive response. Implications are considered regarding the politicising and depoliticising potential of therapeutic practice and the globalisation of therapeutic subjectivity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-153
Number of pages21
JournalEmotions and Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (Grant #1611/15).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, Policy Press. All rights reserved.


  • Cambodia
  • Emotional style
  • Globalisation
  • Therapeutic subjectivity
  • Trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Cultural Studies
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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