Accepted Paper:

Ethnographic Observations at Hybrid Communal Genocide Monuments in Cambodia: Globalizing a Semiotics of Absence or Presence?  


Carol Ann Kidron (University of Haifa)

Paper short abstract:

Ethnographic observations at Cambodian genocide monuments problematize hybrid-glocal commemorative representation. Cosmologically dangerous human remains on display and culturally in-congruent memorial design account for lack of attendance ultimately absencing the meaningful presence of the past.

Paper long abstract:

Participant observation at communal sites of genocide memory and ethnographic interviews with villagers, monks and NGO stakeholders, traced the localization of Euro-Western forms of genocide commemoration in the Cambodian landscape. Hybrid Cambodian-Western communal memorials display the human remains of genocide victims. Disseminating the right and duty to give voice to previously silenced social suffering, memorials embed Euro-Western axioms of global genocide pedagogy namely the potential of material evidence of atrocity on display to promote local and national acknowledgement of suffering, reconciliation, and conflict prevention. The glocal design of the memorials integrates Euro-Western material display of authentic evidence of atrocity with Buddhist traditional commemorative symbolism. However, despite foreign atrocity tourism and the fa├žade of culturally sensitive localization of Western commemorative models and politically enlisted formal ceremonies, ethnographic observation points to the total absence of non-elite voluntary commemorative practice. Cambodian interlocutors describe resistance to and fear of cosmologically dangerous remains on display and the semiotically meaningless hybrid memorial design. Paradoxically, sites designed to re-presence and articulate the genocide past semiotically absence the genocide pat and silence the presence of the dead on display. Findings problematize the globalization of a Holocaust model of commemoration and the "human right and duty to remember" as the new pillar of global genocide pedagogy in today's post-conflict memoryscapes. Critical implications are raised regarding the way global memory brokers, NGO donors and pragmatic politically mobile elite translate local conceptualizations of presence, absence, silence and voice and the limits of constructing hybrid culturally meaningful material objectifications of social suffering.

Panel P015
Breaking the Silence: Heritage Objects and Cultural Memory