Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
Cambodian deminers, the former soldiers who clear minefields in Cambodia, are called ‘Ghostheads’ by villagers. This is partly due to the fact that they are associated with the ‘Beware landmines’ signs that have a skull and crossbones on them, partly because their jobs entail risking their lives, and partly because they are also related to (generally feared) military branches of government. Rumors and stigma follow platoons of deminers. To villagers, their actions correlate to state landgrabs, suggesting that minefields are cleared only to give way to massive development projects and semi-legal logging. This paper focuses on deminers’perspectives on the minefield’s ecologies amidst this stigma. In particular, it draws from fieldwork with a platoon of deminers who were training with a new member in their human-nonhuman community, the landmine detection rat. The rat, a recent import from Tanzania, helped clear the minefields of bombs. The demining organization and the deminers called these rats ‘Herorats’ to portray them as superheros disarming the Cambodian country. This strategy was also an attempt to overcome the militaristic stigma of the ‘Ghostheads’ who worked in the minefield. The rats allowed deminers to portray (and perhaps understand) themselves as working as a friend to animals, which contrasted with the ecological damage they admitted to doing over the normal course of mine clearance. Rat friendship also illuminated the concern deminers had for the environmental crimes occurring in their country, despite their own contribution to them.