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UBC Theses and Dissertations

“Captive” subjects? : higher education and social mobility in “postcolonial” Cambodia Sen, Vicheth


My dissertation problematizes the taken-for-granted colonial doxic linkage between higher education and social mobility introduced by the French colonial administration in Cambodia in the 1860s. The study examines the processes underpinning the pursuit of higher education as an avenue for social mobility in “postcolonial” Cambodia, and posits that this colonial doxa continues to be reproduced in contemporary Cambodian society. The doxa is reproduced through colonial residue present in Cambodian society, neocolonial agencies such as the IMF and the World Bank, and neoliberal capitalism. Conceptually, the study develops a theory of social practice in “postcolonial” Global South societies by expanding Bourdieu’s constructs and adding concepts pertinent to “postcolonial” Global South societies. These include colonial habitus, indigenous habitus, colonized field, gender-embedded capitals, community cultural wealth, working-class cultural complements, and Southern agency. The study draws on life-history interviews with twelve participants who were originally from marginalized socio-economic backgrounds across Cambodia. The study reveals the complexities of forces that facilitate and constrain the participants’ journeys of social mobility, particularly the family, social networks, and the broader socio-cultural framework. Findings highlight an interplay between internal forces of the socio-cultural tradition and external forces shaped by coloniality. Women’s experiences are marked by strategic maneuvering within the socio-cultural traditions, illustrating their “situated” Southern agency. Overall, the journey of social mobility is a familial/collective, rather than an individual, endeavor. Social mobility is defined as resistance to the disadvantages of being from the marginalized social class and, for women, an emancipation from the constraints of socio-cultural norms. The aspirations for social mobility through higher education, however, are enveloped in the colonial doxa framed within the confines of individualistic economic successes, indicating the continued enslavement of the minds of the colonized in “postcolonial” societies. The study has major implications for rethinking educational development in “postcolonial” Global South societies, and suggests that contextually relevant approaches to local community development be reflected in national development policies and practices. It contributes an “indigenous” Cambodian lens on Western concepts, which will in turn refashion our conceptual and theoretical understandings of higher education and social mobility from a “postcolonial” Global South perspective.

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