I was planning on writing up a short review and recommendation on Peg LeVine’s book Love and dread in Cambodia: weddings, births, and ritual harm under the Khmer Rouge today. But then I finally got to a point in my writing where I picked up another book, Margaret Slocomb’s An economic history of Cambodia in the twentieth century, and at the end of it was this wonderful, refreshing quote:
As the following chapters will demonstrate, agriculture, which has always been the main occupation of the people and the mainstay of the state surplus, has consistently failed to fulfill its potential as the designated catalyst for the sort of economic development that Cambodia’s modernisers envisaged. It is equally true, however, that after each catastrophe that befell the nation, it was traditional agriculture that revived the national economy and salvaged the people’s livelihood. (p. 29)
Yes, yes, and again yes: the role of agriculture as a foundation for economy, culture, politics, and ritual imagination, has never been genuinely appreciated in Cambodian studies (or indeed among Cambodian ideologues).