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Various forms of colonialism : the social and spatial reorganisation of the Brao in southern Laos and northeastern Cambodia Baird, Ian George


This dissertation engages with processes of social and spatial organisation of the Brao, a Mon-Khmer language-speaking ethnic group whose approximately 60,000 members reside mainly in the provinces of Attapeu and Champasak, in the southern-most part of Laos; and Ratanakiri and Stung Treng, in the northeastern-most part of Cambodia. Divided broadly into eight different sub-groups—the Jree, Kavet, Hamong, Ka-nying, Lun, Umba, Kreung and Brao Tanap—the Brao are, historically, swidden cultivators whose livelihoods were, and often remain, heavily dependent on fishing, hunting and the collection of various forest products, and who have particular ways of organising spatially, with concomitant rules and norms, including spatial taboos. Over the last number of centuries, various powers have tried to dominate the Brao and Brao spaces, including the Khmer, Lao and Siamese, followed by the French, Japanese, Vietnamese, Americans, Lao (royalist and communist), Khmer (royalist and communist), and the present-day Lao and Cambodian governments working together with international development agencies. These various groups, including those typically considered to be precolonial and postcolonial, are theorised in this thesis as representing different forms of colonialism, each with particular objectives and implications for the Brao. This dissertation examines these various forms of colonialism and their effects on the Brao over history. The role of the international border between Lao and Cambodia in constituting Brao 'places of resistance' is also examined. I demonstrate how differing forms of colonial domination have had varying impacts on the Brao; through effecting social and spatial change that in turn impact—amongst other things—Brao places. These places are constituted with meaning by the Brao, and are closely linked to their identities. All forms of colonialism have spatial repercussions, and frequently include processes of (re)territorialisation and attempts to rescale the spatial systems of dominated groups like the Brao. However, colonial powers are never omnipotent or fully successful. Their efforts are frequently resisted, even if negotiation, compliance and other nuanced responses are important. Overall, human agency is crucial for determining the outcomes of attempts to dominate.

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