Magali An Berthon

Silk and post-conflict Cambodia: Embodied practices and local and global dynamics of heritage and knowledge transference (1991-2018)

PhD Viva completed 2020-2021

At the weaving workshop in Ta Pouk village, Siem Reap province, Cambodia. Picture by the author, July 2017.

Silk and post-conflict Cambodia: Embodied practices and local and global dynamics of heritage and knowledge transference (1991-2018)

ABSTRACT

My thesis examines silk in terms of craft, heritage and use in contemporary Cambodia under the perspective of a history of trade, conflict, loss, and foreign influence. In Cambodia, silk weaving developed into a cottage activity since the twelfth century, producing ceremonial textiles for the domestic market and trade. The Khmer Rouge regime, which claimed close to two million lives between 1975 and 1979, heavily impacted this ancestral craft by impeding silk yarn production, weaving, and skills transmission. The country’s slow reconstruction boosted by the reopening of foreign investment in the 1990s has deeply modified its cultural landscape. How to sustain threads of knowledge and cultural identity in a post-conflict context? In this thesis, the dynamics of rupture and revival of cultural practices and knowledge redefined under local and global tensions are investigated through the scope of silk. 

In doing so, the position of silk in Cambodia and its global diaspora since the fall of the destructive Khmer Rouge regime opens the way to a polyvocal exploration. Angles of analysis include looking at the enmeshment of silk in Cambodia’s history, geography and geopolitics and the structuration of the silk sector via its main foreign and domestic actors since the 1990s. Recentring on the weavers’ key role in skills transmission, the craft of Cambodian silk weaving and the meaning of textiles and dress are lenses through which this study explore themes of embodiment, tacit knowledge, cultural memory, identity, and empowerment.  

Through several periods of fieldwork in Cambodia and Long Beach, California, combining ethnographic methodologies, interviews and Action Research, this thesis produces its own base of primary oral and visual resources. This prime material on contemporary silk practices in post-conflict Cambodia are put in dialogue with archival and object-based studies to reveal an updated critical perspective on the multilayered nature of silk.

Website: https://tissusetartisansdumonde.fr/en/