Southeast Asia

Organized Panel Session

4 - Social Mobility in Contemporary Cambodia: Life Histories of Professionals from Marginalized Socio-Economic Backgrounds

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Park Tower 8222, Lobby Level

This paper presents the findings of a qualitative study that examines social mobility in contemporary Cambodian society. Specifically, the paper investigates the life histories of individuals, originally from marginalized family backgrounds but currently holding high professional and managerial positions in Cambodia. The study adopts Bourdieu’s conceptual toolbox (capital, field, and habitus) and Beck’s and Giddens’s conceptualization of reflexivity as its conceptual orientation. The research employs a life history methodology, involving in-depth interviews with 12 research participants (3 female) about their life stories and how they “made it” to where they are today. Findings show that the unstable contextual realities in post-conflict Cambodia, while lacking institutional support for young people to craft a more predictable life trajectory, open mobility opportunities to those who negotiate the constraints and opportunities to chart their mobility pathways in the social, educational and occupational spaces. For women, their experiences of social mobility are marked by constant negotiations with “traditional” socio-cultural values and gender role expectations, suggesting continuous exercising of their agentic capacity. The study reveals the participants’ balancing act, drawing on their socio-culturally embedded structural capital and cautiously manoeuvring their own agentic deliberations. The study sheds light on the extent to which the Western-oriented conceptualizations of structure and agency may be able to explain individuals’ social mobility in a more “collective” Asian society in the South, especially in the age of rapidly globaliz(ed)ing environments. It also offers an exemplary case of social mobility research in a transitional society where the socio-political framework is unstable and contested.

Vicheth Sen

University of British Columbia, British Columbia, Canada

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4 - Social Mobility in Contemporary Cambodia: Life Histories of Professionals from Marginalized Socio-Economic Backgrounds



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