Society for East Asian Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
In contemporary Cambodia, whether and how rule of law can be established is a high stakes question, as the establishment of rule of law has been framed as a safeguard against a return to the chaos of the lawless Khmer Rouge period and as a requirement for continued economic growth. A key aspect of the establishment of rule of law in Cambodia is legal infrastructure building through the production of increased numbers of professionals trained to reason according to law. Drawing on methods of cultural and linguistic anthropology, this paper examines the discursive practices shaping young Cambodians’ socialization into the roles of legal professionals and their subsequent career trajectories and practices as legal actors. Cambodia’s young legal professionals provide a critical window into the dynamic processes of rule-of-law building. Many young professionals enter the field of law motivated precisely by a desire to help build rule of law in Cambodia. And yet for many, participation in a legal system governed by rule of law still appears to be a distant object, given existing political realities. The paper thus addresses the following three questions: 1) How do young Cambodian legal professionals characterize Cambodia’s legal system with respect to rule of law? 2) How do their understandings of whether Cambodia has rule of law relate to their perceptions of both their agency and their constraints as legal actors? 3) How do their perceptions of agency and constraint shape their participation in Cambodia’s legal system?