I’ve written extremely briefly on Accumulation By Dispossession in contemporary Cambodia previously.

A definition of Accumulation By Dispossession from Wikipedia:

Accumulation by dispossession is a concept presented by the Marxist geographer David Harvey, which defines the neoliberal capitalist policies in many western nations, from the 1970s and to the present day, as resulting in a centralization of wealth and power in the hands of a few by dispossessing the public of their wealth or land.[1] These neoliberal policies are guided mainly by four practices: privatization, financialization, management and manipulation of crises, and state redistributions.

David Harvey, who invented the term, can probably do the best job explaining it:

There appears to be an irony here: the term Accumulation By Dispossession is in many ways an an attempt to update Marx’s Primitive Accumulation for the neo-Liberal era. By “Primitive,” Marx mean “originary,” as an answer to the question, “where did the employing class get the wealth necessary to invest in the creation of means of production such as factories?” The term was not intended as pejorative but is certainly received as such by many; given the history of supposedly ‘civilized’ groups’ actions towards supposed ‘primitives,’ the dislike of the term is easily understandable.

Regardless, Harvey’s reworking of “Primitive Accumulation” into Accumulation By Dispossession describes some modern neo-liberal practices very well, but it seems to lose the ability to capture precisely the dynamics that Marx was describing in the Enclosure Movement in England: how did individuals get enough wealth in order to found companies and build factories? Once one has a corporation, Accumulation By Dispossession describes things nicely. But what about cases where it’s not primarily large corporations doing the dispossessing?

One of the hardest questions to answer when considering the question of accumulation by dispossession is how the individuals doing the dispossessing justify it to themselves. How does one justify actions typically considered theft by one’s neighbors, whom one is often dispossessing? It’s easier to comprehend, I suppose, if it’s a large corporate exploitation or colonial exploitation. Is the model of accumulation by dispossession flexible enough to describe a process like the one that Pamela McElwee writes about in her book, Forests are Gold: Trees, People and Environmental Rule in Vietnam (2016, University of Washington Press).


I haven’t read the book yet, but am always interested in questions where labor and environment come together, especially in Southeast Asia. This podcast episode, from the New Books in Anthropology podcast, part of the New Books Network, features Nick Cheesman interviewing McElwee. Shortly after the 50 min point, the conversation takes a fascinating turn, when McElwee starts discussing precisely the problem above: when semi-local individuals are the prime movers in Accumulation By Dispossession.

Highly recommended.

Accumulation By Dispossession in Vietnam – Book Note


This blog and it’s changes

gate gate paragate parasamgate, bodhi svaha!

(gone, gone, really gone, truly really gone, hail wisdom!)

Well, not actually gone. But in keeping with the obvious observation that everything changes, and given that I’ve returned to blogging here on a slightly more regular basis, I thought I would take a moment to note some of the changes.

I started this blog way back in 2004, if memory serves, not even on wordpress. I learned HTML and hard-coded everything using a now disappeared java-based app to write up ongoing reflections, unsorted thoughts, and links to interesting things from my fieldwork in Cambodia (2003-2006). Later on, I switched over to this wordpress format, which I continue to find relatively congenial, but as my writing focus shifted more toward scholarly publication and the end of fieldwork, the blog became more of a place for sharing news stories about Cambodia, while retaining the occasional beginnings of thought, unfinished reflections, etc. I also managed a separate blog to update family back in the USA about my growing family, since we turned from two to four during fieldwork, and this was before Facebook!

I now use Twitter for news broadcasting. If that’s your thing, you can find me there at @erikwdavis . The same warning that I include on this blog applies to my twitter account:

I have a job! In that job, I teach some of the same subjects I discuss on this blog! But this page doesn’t represent my employer’s positions, or my manner as a teacher. They haven’t reached out to endorse this page, and I haven’t asked for it.

An additional caveat applies to my @twitter account: I often share news and opinions there that are far from my scholarly fields of expertise, and have more to do with elements of my personal life and interest, such as the multi-faceted and crucial struggles of feminism and gender equality – including trans equality, unions, and neurodiversity. Sometimes these will overlap with Cambodia – most especially in regards to feminism and unions, but very often they will not. Even better than following me, just add #Cambodia to your saved search list in the Twitter app. I do not use nor encourage Facebook, though I’m aware of its astonishing popularity in Cambodia; with no apologies to its founders, I find it a bit of a cesspool, encouraging the worst behavior. At least on twitter, there’s no expectation that you’re speaking only to your friends and people who already know you.

I have a book, with the working title “Deathpower: Imagining Religion in Contemporary Cambodia,” under contract and review with an academic press. I’ll be promoting it shamelessly once the process has moved further along, but I’m hopeful that it will not only be received and read by a wide variety of people, ranging from professional and amateur academics, to English-reading Cambodians, to the merely curious. Parts of it are intentionally provocative, and I sincerely hope to provoke debates and conversations that can move our collective knowledges forward. I don’t know everything, and consider true scholarship a process of conversation and collective knowledge-building. I hope that my book and my articles can provoke knowledge better than they themselves represent.

One quick note: Udaya, the trilingual academic journal on Cambodian studies cofounded by Ang Choulean and Ashley Thompson, has made the leap to Open Access online, as has the Khmer sister publication, Khmer Renaissance!. I cannot recommend these enough. Please go check them out.

And with that, I’ll leave you with my favorite Cambodian video of the last couple of weeks, a cover of Pharrell WIlliams’ “Happy” performed by folks associated with Epic Arts Cambodia in Kampot.

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Read: Bruce Lincoln’s “Gods and Demons, Priests and Scholars”

I received my copy of Bruce Lincoln‘s latest book, titled Gods and Demons, Priests and Scholars: Critical Explorations in the History of Religionsand finished it last night (See here for a short review of a previous book of his). It is an excellent book, full of the sort of provocative, clearly-argued, and most-often compelling arguments about the field of religious studies, its methods, and, to a slightly lesser extent, application. These subjects have been at the heart of Lincoln’s academic project for quite awhile, and it is not an accident that this volume, which is a collection of essays and articles, many of which have been published in journals previously, begins with a piece of writing that is one of Lincoln’s most famous and provocative: his “Theses on Method.” These theses have provoked much response and discussion by those who challenge Lincoln as overly reductive, or hostile, to religion, though I have never seen his approach in that way. You can read Timothy Fitzgerald’s criticism of this piece, and Lincoln’s response, here and here.

I studied under and worked with Lincoln for a few years as a doctoral student at the University of Chicago Divinity school. Having taken several classes with him, met with him as an advisee, and attended many public talks, I never found him hostile to religion as such. He might have been occasionally reductive, but only in the sense that he was willing to examine phenomena very closely, which I take as a characteristic of scholarship, and indeed, language.

Two pieces (Chapters Two and Twelve) offer straightforward advice on how to accomplish particular tasks within Religious Studies (“How to Read a Religious Text” and “Theses on Comparison”). Others deal with cosmogonic (universe-creation) myths, modern and ancient science and how they dealt with phenomena that don’t confirm their cosmologies, differently-characterized types of mythic discourse, World Religions as a discourse of its own, as well as the traditional themes of sanctified violence. His final essay, “On the (Un)discipline of Religious Studies,” begins with an anecdote – and an essay unpacking that anecdote’s relevance – of an argument between Mircea Eliade and Jonathan Z. Smith on whether chaos or order should be prioritized in time (i.e., ‘which comes first, order or chaos?’). Each essay is worth careful study.

I will be using parts of this book for my first version of my “Introduction to Theory and Method” course, which I’ll be teaching this fall. At a minimum, I intend to have us

  1. Work through “Theses on Method” and its responses
  2. Read “How to read a religious text,” and apply those rules to both (a) a religious text, and (b) the essay itself
  3. The (Un)discipline of Religious Studies, with a discussion on the importance of institutions that study Religion, such as the American Academy of Religion (AAR), which Lincoln discusses in this chapter.

I recommend this book to all those who study Religion, especially those for whom the primary goal of Religious Studies is something other than the celebration of religion as sacred and beyond interrogation. As Lincoln phrases it, “As it happens, with the possible exception of Economics, ours [Religious Studies] is the only academic field that is effectively organized to protect its (putative) object of study against critical examination.” (in his response to Fitzgerald, p. 167).


Sounding the Public Disciplines for February 2012

Basically just a link dump. Lots of good things keeping me busy offline.

  • Religion Bulletin reviews a new book by Hans Kippenberg titled “Violence as Worship.” They also published an interview with Paul-François Tremlett on the “Legacy of Structuralism,” and some straight talk on graduate study in a post titled “So you think you want to get a Ph.D.?
  • A new peer-reviewed, open access, ethnography journal, Hau, is making waves, especially in the wake of AAA’s decision to not support Open Access, and then their sudden reversal of that same decision. Savage Minds has covered Hau in this context here, here, and here. Savage Minds has also written about open access publishing from the perspective of Ed Carr, here.
  • Understanding Society weblog has this good post on Defining a Social Subject, as well as a specifically Weberian take on the same subject.

Sounding Death for November 17, 2011

Ahh, mid-term season, when all individual research writing shrieks to a halt in the face of grading, grant-writing, recommendation-letters, etc., etc. Perhaps that’s what makes us think of death so frequently in this season, and not merely the traditional association of Autumn with death and renewal. Whatever causes it, the interwebz have been throwing a lot of death-related material out there for us to enjoy.

A new Pyu burial site found in Sri Ksetra, Burma/Myanmar, and consists of “urns collected in a brick structure.” (via Southeast Asian Archaeology Weblog) This urban settlement thrived from 4th-9th centuries CE. The Pyu are one of the major four ethnic groups considered indigenous to the regions, the Khmer, Pyu, Cham, and Mon. One of the many interesting things about the burial site, to me, is the existence of grouped urns, as is still standard practice among the Khmer.

The “Kola” group are an ethnic Burmese group that used to thrive in the Pailin region of Cambodia, especially as gem miners and merchants. Although sometimes described as ‘disappeared,’ it might be better to say that the Kola in Pailin have been supplanted: it’s still possible to find people who describe themselves as Kola, but I have not heard of a
“Kola community.” Regardless, a Kola Stupa in the region has just been restored, and it looks AWESOME.

Buzzfeed had a nice photo essays on the Bolivia’s “Day of the Skulls.” Perhaps a bit focused on the ‘transgressive’ aspects (transgressive especially to the presumed Norteamericano viewer, I think), but still a number of very nice photos.

Or perhaps you’d like to take a peek at a lovely necropolis? (surprisingly high property values!)

Atlas Obscura finally got around to profiling the Choeung Ek Memorial Stupa. Pretty much the sort of detail you’d imagine.

In the Czech Republic, Atlas Obscura also profiled the ossuary of Křtiny, in which the skulls of approximately 1,000 people are (mostly) painted with a black laurel-wreath design.

Some of the links and images in the posts above are taken from the newly-published book, The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses, by Paul Koudounaris, which looks grimly beautiful.

A fascinating new mortuary practice in South Korea is catching press; it’s being cast as a new way to mourn, but I wonder if that’s the whole story. And if so, why now? Interesting stuff. The practice? Turning the remains of loved ones into prayer beads.


Sounding on Buddhism for September 1 2011

From the Isn’t It Cool files: one of the most important Buddhist institutions of learning in history is about to be rebuilt. Thanks to news from Noel of the Southeast Asian Archaeology Weblog.

The site is the ancient Dong Duong Buddhist College, built in ancient Champa, and hence on the crucially important sea routes between China and India (and beyond). Many important Buddhist travelers stopped, stayed, studied, and taught at Dong Duong.  The Encyclopedia Brittanica writes of Dong Duong that

Apart from My Son there are one or two other sites in north and central Vietnam where Cham art was made in quantity. The most important of these is Dong Duong, in Quang Nam. It is a ruined Buddhist monastery complex of the late 9th century, conceived on the most beautifully elaborated plan of structured space in Champa. The architectural detail is distinguished from the My Son work by its greater emphasis upon the plasticity of architectural elements such as angle pilasters and porticoes. The circuit wall was about half a mile (1 km) long and once contained many shrines dedicated to Buddhist deities. It is possible that, when this complex of brick courts, halls, and gate pavilions was intact, it may have resembled very closely the contemporary Buddhist monasteries of northeastern India.

Dong Duong is a total mess at the moment: Continue reading

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Sounding on Cambodia for April 18, 2011

Happy Khmer New Year, everybody! សួស្តី ឆ្នាំ​ថ្មី! I’m a few days late of course, but my wishes are sincere for all of that.  May your upcoming year be full of health, success, happiness, and peace. I was not able, this year, to attend the awesome (and increasingly awesome) New Year’s events at my local Khmer temple – Wat Munisota [I can’t ever say that name without wanting to point out how fantastically funny and smart the namers were: Munisota means (in Sanskrit and Khmer): “That which is heard from the sage” (the Dharma), but of course, it also sounds very much like “Minnesota,” which was intentional. Brilliant, good humor], in spite of some excellent invitations.  But I’m hopeful I might be able to make it to the Madison temple‘s New Year celebration this coming Saturday.

In this week’s Sounding on Cambodia, I talk about:

  • The 36th anniversary of the Fall of Phnom Penh, April 17, 1975 [The picture above is Lon Nol Buddhist-inspired propaganda which characterizes the communist insurgency as Vietnamese anti-Buddhist monsters, defeated by the power of Nang Thorani’s hair in the scene of the Buddha’s enlightenment].
  • “Aid to Cambodia Rarely Reaches the People it’s Intended to Help,” by Joel Brinkley, and a review of Joel Brinkley’s new book, “Cambodia’s Curse,” by Elizabeth Becker
  • PM Hun Sen rumored to have lung cancer – no confirmation
More after the jump…