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Reviewed by:
  • International Democracy Assistance for Peacebuilding: Cambodia and Beyond, and: Dancing in Shadows: Sihanouk, The Khmer Rouge, and the United Nations in Cambodia
  • Sophal Ear (bio)
International Democracy Assistance for Peacebuilding: Cambodia and Beyond. By Sorpong Peou. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Hardcover: 261pp.
Dancing in Shadows: Sihanouk, The Khmer Rouge, and the United Nations in Cambodia. By Benny Widyono. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. Softcover: 321 pp.

Recent studies of Cambodia centre on the Khmer Rouge period, but both books under review cover the more recent period of Cambodia’s democratic experiment during and after the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) sponsored elections of 1993. Both are written by two eminently qualified individuals: a seasoned peacekeeper and international bureaucrat originally from Indonesia — Benny Widyono — and a Cambodian-Canadian scholar of post-conflict peacebuilding and democratization — Sorpong Peou.

To be sure, Widyono’s and Peou’s books fall under different genres: the former is a vivid autobiographical narrative while the latter is a study teeming with erudition. But they each represent valuable contributions to the body of knowledge on post-conflict Cambodia, as well as the practice and theory of peacebuilding and democratization. Combining them both in a single book review is a challenge to say the least. Suffice it to say that Widyono’s writing could use the precision and clarity of a more scholarly and rigorous methodological style, while Peou’s work could, at times, be livened-up a bit with a more personal narrative style. Widyono’s book is engrossing — though riddled with annoying erratas — while Peou’s first three chapters (contained in Part 1: The Analytical Framework) are outstanding in terms of reviewing the scholarly literature and establishing a conceptual framework. [End Page 140]

Peou introduces the concept of Complex Realist Institutionalism (CRI). While I am uncertain as to the utility of the concept, the literature review is exceptional as is the structured analysis across three levels: the state, the political arena and civil society. Does Peou deliver? For the most part, he certainly does: it is a work of great attention to detail, and one which can hardly be faulted. My only critique would be that for someone with so much direct experience of Cambodia, Peou’s chapters in which he presents evidence in support of CRI, seem second-hand and bogged down by minutia.

Moreover, some of Peou’s claims go unreferenced (as for example on p. 107 regarding several royalist ministers conducting secret negotiations with Hun Sen), and his reliance on Khmer Intelligence (11 endnote citations) a website and e-mail service of dubious provenance that he warns us about on p. 44. Methodologically, he uses “democratic consolidation as the dependent variable, institutionalization as both an independent and a dependent variable, structural factors as the main independent variables, and international democracy assistance as the intervening variable” (p. 45). Using institutionalization as both independent and dependent variables would seem to introduce a priori endogeneity into the model from a conceptual standpoint.

Twain’s original dictum, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics” appears appropriately enough (p. 41) in Peou’s fierce defence of his methodological approach to his single-case rich description study of Cambodia’s experience with international democracy assistance building. While he summarizes his methodology as both quantitative and qualitative, in fact it reflects far greater comfort in the qualitative realm. No-one would fault him for doing so, but it is initially off-putting — indeed almost defensive when he writes “Even behaviourists who take pride in scientific inquiries do not always rely exclusively on quantitative data” (Endnote 21, p. 220). There is clearly a place for both, and often times, one complements the other as when many countries are statistically analyzed and the results of which guide the choice of case studies of the type Peou does, so as to avoid selecting on the dependent variable (democratic consolidation in this case).

Speaking of documentation, Peou’s later chapters contained in Parts 1–5, are so mired in details that the reader can lose sight of the forest for the trees were it not for a succinct paragraph at the end of every chapter that...


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pp. 140-143
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