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Migration as Distinction? : Class, consumption and rural-urban migration in contemporary Cambodia

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

This PhD thesis explores the effects of shifting bases of production and consumption in the global South, examining the interrelated roles of changing patterns of labour migration and everyday consumption practices in the reproduction and transformation of class structures in contemporary Cambodia. The ‘miracle’ of Cambodia’s recent development, a decade of rapid economic growth, has been driven by the movement of labour. However, the narrative of success is challenged by vast inequalities of wealth and opportunity. With class a (re-)emergent theme of analysis in the social science literature, this study adapts the theory and methods of Pierre Bourdieu to present a novel account of how processes of economic development in the South shape the life chances of individuals. Employing multivariate statistical analysis in conjunction with detailed ethnographic data, this study illustrates the development trajectories of individuals and households in one village community in Kandal province and interrogates their interaction with broader economic change, as revealed through the experiences of its habitually resident and urban migrant populations. The research emphasises the heterogeneous experience of development at household level, considering both material and discursive differences that construct and contrast competing classes within village society. Though rural-urban migration is pursued by individuals as a means of transcending social position within this local class system, the general effect of such movement is to translocate difference from village to city and reproduce social divisions. The study offers to the literature a deeper appreciation of unfolding class processes in the industrialising global South by analysing the complex ways in which labour migration entrenches inequality.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date2016


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