Southeast Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - Becoming Critics: State Schools, Corruption, and Young Cambodian Voters

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Tyler, Mezzanine Level

Since the 2013 national election, weakening support for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party has been attributed in large part to youth seeking political change. Based off ethnographic research conducted with 12th grade students in two rural high schools, this paper examines how young Cambodians develop a critique of the CPP-led state through their experiences with corruption in the public education system. Many students describe certain school practices as corrupt, notably rampant cheating on examinations and payments to teachers for class materials. Students want school and government officials to put an end to such practices, even as they are compelled to participate in these practices to complete high school. According to students, corruption in schools is not only unjust, it also lowers the quality of their education in ways that limit the younger generation’s ability to improve the country. I argue that discourses about corruption in public schools are a means through which youth both identify the kinds of state actions they find illegitimate and articulate the appropriate relationship between citizens and the state. For many young people in this study, the CPP is failing to run the state in a manner that lives up to their expectations, largely because of wide-spread corruption that reflects what students face at school. They see the 2018 election as an opportunity to act upon their discontent by not casting their vote for the CPP. By campaigning on a platform of government accountability, the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party presents a potential alternative.

Jennifer Estes

University of Wisconsin - Madison, Washington

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2 - Becoming Critics: State Schools, Corruption, and Young Cambodian Voters



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