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Reviewed by:
  • Governing Cambodia’s Forests: The International Politics of Policy Reform by Andrew Cock, and: Cambodia’s Second Kingdom: Nation, Imagination, and Democracy by Astrid Norén-Nilsson
  • Sophal Ear (bio)
Governing Cambodia’s Forests: The International Politics of Policy Reform. By Andrew Cock. Copenhagen: Nordic Institute of Asian Studies Press, 2016. Softcover: 320 pp.
Cambodia’s Second Kingdom: Nation, Imagination, and Democracy. By Astrid Norén-Nilsson. Ithaca, New York: Cornell Southeast Asia Program Publications, 2016. Softcover: 228 pp.

Aside from being books on contemporary Cambodian politics, Andrew Cock’s Governing Cambodia’s Forests: The International Politics of Policy Reform and Astrid Norén-Nilsson’s Cambodia’s Second Kingdom: Nation, Imagination, and Democracy both share a common link: David Chandler. Chandler, the original Cambodianist, wrote the foreword to Norén-Nilsson’s book and proffered a generous blurb to Cock’s. Stylistically and methodologically, however, they diverge. Cock’s book came about as part of his work as a forestry policy advisor (and formed the basis of his doctorate) at NGO Forum, an umbrella non-profit organization based in Cambodia, for four years in the early 2000s. This gave him an incredible vantage point, but also raised questions about how that work influenced his research, which he fully acknowledges: “generates biases and interests that colour perceptions of issues and the way they are analyzed. Observations risk becoming politicized in a way that clouds their objectivity and judgement” (p. xii). Norén-Nilsson’s use of elite interviews, done for her doctoral dissertation, offers a window into the soul of Cambodian politicians.

Cock’s book hones in on the idea of norm penetration, namely “how norms of appropriate state practice spread throughout the international system” (p. xi); more specifically “why international initiatives aimed at improving the management and conservation of tropical forests have achieved so little in curtailing the rate at which forest areas continue to be logged and converted into other land uses” and “second … the inexorable penetration of peripheral terrestrial spaces throughout the 500 years since the international system first co-evolved in conjunction with one of its central modern features — the sovereign territorial state” (p. 2). Here, Cock means how the norms of the Westphalian state have not actually penetrated Cambodia’s forests.

Cock argues that “externally promoted reform agendas are often manipulated by ruling elites in targeted states” (p. 6), in other words, why reform agendas are captured. Second, “Although [End Page 532] forestry policy reforms failed to achieve their direct goals, they channeled the ruling elite towards practices of forest governance that enhanced the political and economic integration of Cambodia’s forested hinterland. The failure of forestry reforms to ensure the preservation of Cambodia’s forests thus paradoxically worked to further more fundamental ‘reform’ aims” (p. 7).

As a critic of foreign aid’s failings, I could not help but appreciate his argument that “[Foreign aid] can also have more perverse effects in that aid can reduce both the cost of reform and of delaying reform. It may induce governments to postpone making sacrifices until at least some of the promised aid is dispersed” (p. 13). On pages 115–16, Cock tabulated key events in the trajectory of the International Monetary Fund’s Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility for Cambodia, 1994–97, one that rang very true from my own recollection of the events as they unfolded. Without doubt, Cock’s book is an essential read for anyone interested in what happened to Cambodian forests and policy reform in the 2000s.

Astrid Norén-Nilsson’s Cambodia’s Second Kingdom uses Ben Anderson’s Imagined Communities as the basis of its analysis of Cambodia and its Second Kingdom. Norén-Nilsson asserts Cambodia is best thought of as an “unfinished imagined community” (p. 2), both in terms of its boundaries and its characteristics. Her discussion of dual citizenship in Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) NGO head Pung Chivv Kek’s decision not to become the ninth tie-breaking member of the National Election Committee (p. 11) reminds this reviewer of the doctoral dissertations of Christine Su’s Tradition and Change: Khmer Identity and Democracy in the 20th Century...


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pp. 532-535
Launched on MUSE
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