James Tyner – The Killing of Cambodia – Notes

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Book Notes

Chapter 1: Imaging Genocide

Can we define Genocide?

Mick Q: Am I structuralist or post-structuralist?

Mick Q: Role of power/knowledge nexus in ethical framework

Given that knowledge is neither neutral nor value-free, but rather the outcome of political processes, it follows that knowledge is intrinsically associated with social relations. Moreover, given that social relations are not necessarily asymmetrical, one assumes that ‘power’ assumes a pivotal role in knowledge production’.

‘Foucault forwards the idea that power ace knowledge directly imply one another’. (pg 7)

Foucault – power is exercised not possessed, so not necessarily a negative force. Makes us consider relations between groups in a system rather than on a dominant class.

Researchers should direct their attention to the exercise of power in the production process of knowledge vis-a-vis the Genocide’. (pg 8)

Discourse refers not to … the definition of a conversation … rather to disciplines of knowledge’ (pg 8)

Foucault – discourse derives from statements which:

  • Have material existence, and are properly articulated
  • Have manifest substance at a particular place and time
  • Do not have a direct correlation to a specific individual or object
  • Have social approval and agreement amongst appropriate actors. eg. Genocide only becomes Genocide when appropriate political actors call it that.

A Foucauldian approach to discourse is to view discourse not as a group of signs but as practices that systematically form the objects of what they speak’…

‘Consequently there can never be a singular discourse of Genocide, but rather multiple, contradictory and contested discourses’. (pg 9)

1. Discussing specific events (was it Genocide?) legal scholars
2. What were motivations, intentions and knowledge claims (of those committing Genocide)?

Geographical Imaginations

The writing of our geographies is a process of creating meanings about our places and spaces’. (Cosgrove and Domosh)’, (Pg 10)

Imaginative Geographies are political discourses, politics of space (pg 11)

Metageographies – Axis of Evil

‘International relations are inextricably doing up with discursive practices that put into circulation representations that are taken as truth’. (Doty, pg 13)

Truth for Foucault is centred on the form of scientific discourse and the institutions which produce it’. (Pg 13)

The problem of arguments on why mass bombing (on cities controlled by enemy governments) is not Genocide … (pg 14)

Judgments directed to Genocide are in realm of moral discourse.

Tyner agreed with Valentino that ..

‘The effort to understand mass killing should begin with an examination of the capabilities, interests, ideas and strategies of groups and individuals in positions of political and military power, and not with factors that predispose societies to produce such leaders’. (Valentino, Primary Solutions, pg 15)

Chapter 2: Irruptions and Disruptions

Story of Keo Meas, devoted and early communist, who in 1976 was interrogated and killed at Tuol Sleng as he had revealed the wrong founding date of the Cambodian Communists Party. (pg 18)

Deep need to present the ‘correct’ facts within the Khmer Rouge. The ‘1951’ faction were considered in league with the Vietnamese communists, and so needed to be purged (David Chandler).

Foucault suggested there are no constants, and we must question of coherence (pg 19)

Foucault in a number of his writings is concerned to establish the interconnectedness of power and knowledge and power and truth. He describes the ways in which knowledge does not simply emerge from scholarly study but is produced and maintained in circulation in societies through the work of a number of different institutions and practices. Thus, he moves us away from seeing knowledge as objective and dispassionate towards a view which sees knowledge always working in the interests of particular groups’. (Mills, 2003: 79)


Interesting history built around Ho Chi Minh , who wanted independence more than communism, as was not in favour of Comintern plans to keep ‘Indochina’ after liberation from the French.

And Cambodia was largely run by non-Cambodians. (pg 30)

WWII provides catalyst for Cambodian nationalism (pg 32)

In 1940 Vichy France, having been granted rights to still ‘control’ Indochina by the Nazi Germany, did a deal with a Japan to continue in place in return for Japan controlling military facilities m economic resources. By May 1941 most of Cambodia was occupied by Japan. (Pg 33)

Pro-Japanese Thailand took control of Battambang and most of Siem Reap province. Angkor stayed under French control. This humiliated King Monivong.

Cambodia was not physically devastated by WWII. Sihanouk became an acquiescent King in 1941 after father’s death in April 1941. There was some resistance but ineffectual. By contrast the Viet Minh were against both the French and the Japanese in wanting independence.

In 1944 Pho Khum, supported by a new Thai Govt that realized which way WWII was going, founded the anti-French Khmer Issarak, to remove the French. The Vichy regime was harsh on Cambodian peasants, with austerity, food shortages and prison camps.

Many well to do students attended Collège Norodom Sihanouk junior high school, and the first class of 20 was in 1942. Saloth Sar was a member of that cohort. Khieu Samphan also attended. (pg 35)

Summer 1944 Vichy France was ended. March 9 1945 the Japanese arrested French military and eventually arrested all French civilians.

There was an attempt by hardline nationalists to get Sihanouk to abdicate and overthrow his cabinet.

Sept 1945 HO Chi Minh declared Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). Dec 19 1946 first Indochina war started.

In Cambodia the genuinely forward looking Democratic Party won national elections in 1946. But … loosely identified as Khmer Isaarak, indecisive and fractured resistance continued. (Pg 42)

Independence – November 9, 1953. Sihanouk head of state.

Geneva conference 1954 – all French and Viet Minh forces to leave Cambodia, but Khmer Resistance forces also had to lay down arms with no territory. Few winners. Cambodian communists felt betrayed by PRC and DRV. Vietnamese communists betrayed by PRC. (pg 54

Communist support in countryside collapsed, only some left in the cities, which is where Pol Pot focused.

Chapter 3: The Improbable Revolution

CIA assessment that the US bombing was a major KR recruitment tool (pg 82)

Chapter 4: The Un-making of Space

Cambodia and the Meaning of Revolution

The word revolution has two dominant meanings. On the one hand, revolution (or political revolution) refers to any and all instances in which a state or political regime is overthrown and thereby transformed by a popular movement.” According to this usage, Cambodia (as detailed in Chapters 2 and 3) reveals a series of revolutions. The Khmer Issaraks, the Viet Minh-trained Khmer resistance groups, as well as the Paris-educated Khmer Rouge all initiated revolutions. Targets were variously identifiedas the French colonial authorities, the monarchy (as embodied by Sihanouk), the Lon Nol/ Sirik Matak government, and the United States. The formation of a unified revolutionary movement in Cambodia, however, was always precarious. Although a common interest revolved around a basic desire to rid the country of French dominance (an anti-colonial movement), revolutionaries were always divided in terms of ideological approach. The Communist movement, for example, did not initially attract much popular support. It was not until the devastation wrought by the American bombing and the removal of Sihanouk by Lon Nol that people rallied in large numbers to the Khmer Rouge. This is a point that bears emphasis because the Khmer Rouge never felt that they represented the interests of the population. And in fact they never did‘. (pg 87)

The communist revolution engineered by the Khmer Rouge was neither a populist uprising nor a spontaneous grass-roots movement … Rather the ascension of Saloth Sar and is colleagues represents an elitist movement that coopted the grievances of the masses’. (pg 88)

Chapter 5: The Placelessness of Democratic Kampuchea

‘Specifically, Relph develops seven-fold typology in an attempt to flesh out the various “experiences of being an insider or outsider”.

First there is “existential outsiderness” in which all places assume the same meaningless identify and are distinguishable only by their superficial qualities. According to Relph, this is the position that fascinates poets and novelists, who often are intrigued by a “sense of unreality of the world, and of not belonging.”

A second relationship entails “objective outsiderness” in which all places are viewed scientifically and passively. Objective outsiderness involves a deep separation of person and place, and has a long tradition in academic geography as well as that of military planning and politics. Such a position reduces places either to the single dimension of location or to a space of located objects and activities.

Incidental outsiderness” constitutes a third relationship between experience and place. Here, places are experienced little more than backgrounds for activities and thus, the experience of place is even detached than that of objective outsiderness. Relph provides the example of business persons going from city to city merely to attend conferences and meetings. Place is secondary to the activities at hand; indeed, the identity of the place is little more Than a background for the conduct of other functions.”

A fourth relationship is that of “vicarious insideness” in which places experienced in second hand way. Relph explains that through paintings or poetry we “enter” into other worlds and other places. Often feelings towards these places are most pronounced when the depiction of specific place corresponds with experiences of familiar places.

Fifth, “behaviourist insidedness” involves the deliberate attendance to the appearance of a place. Here one perceives and conceives of a place as a set of objects, views, and activities.

Sixth, “empathetic insidedness” occurs when one understands a place to be rich in meaning. Such a position demands a willingness to be open to the significance of a place, to know and respect its symbols.

Lastly, according to Relph, “existential insideness” constitutes the most fundamental and “intense” a place as an existential insider, one experiences place without deliberate conscious reflection, yet all the whole knowing that the place is full of significance’. (Pg 142)

KR leadership were objective outsiders, not at all insiders or empathetic. Their geographic regions were deliberately designed to destroy previous sense of place and country.

  • ‘Scientific’ 4 year plans that were unrealistic – lists of targets not strategies and executional detail.
  • Common clothes, common facilities and communal meals.
  • Geography remapped without history. Obliteration of everyday landscape and experience. Map devoid of humanity, with no meanings. (pg 143)

= Relph’s ‘Placelessness’


Note: Relph defines several kinds of place:

  1. Pragmatic or primitive – instinctive or unselfconscious – though animals might also be able to define ‘home’ spaces.
  2. Perceptual – human reflection on space – based on needs, practices, emotional encounters … [Mick – maybe lost Empires?]
  3. Existential – as members of a cultural group, defining the group or configured to physically manifest its practices.
  4. Sacred – archaic, symbols, meaningful objects, ritualised relationships to the space.
  5. Structural or geographic – analytical, reductionist, scale, relationships of spaces.
  6. Architectural or planning – considers living spaces, uses, relationships though may leave ‘non-spaces’ between.
  7. Cognitive – abstract definitions as objects of reflection, not experiential other than as basis for actual constructs.
  8. Abstract – non-Euclidean, theoretical, thought experiments

Chapter 6: The Political and the Subject

The body as an object to be used or eliminated

Erasure of any individualism

Angkar has the eyes of a pineapple’ .. but no one know who or what it was, making it’s power when stronger (pg 154)

Torture was not born out of rage, but as a technique, out of a ritual desire. It was an instrument of control.

Life had little value for the Khmer Rouge leadership beyond the purpose of serving Angkar, Democratic Kampuchea, and the revolution. This is pointedly expressed in the Khmer Rouge slogan: “To die is banal for the one who fights heroically.”

All bodies, on their own, were presumed to be inconsequential. It was only within the context of the revolution, of the state of Democratic Kampuchea, that bodies acquired meaning and purpose. And for the Khmer Rouge, bodies were to be either productive workers (i.e., performing labor on collectives) and/or politically loyal (i.e., docile). Otherwise, bodies were considered as barriers to the culmination of the collective utopia imagined by the Khmer Rouge.

This is why Pol Pot, on his death bed, continued to exhibit no remorse for the death he unleashed on Cambodia. From his point of view, the Khmer Rouge regime did not kill anyone, they simply removed the detritus of society that threatened the sovereignty of Democratic Kampuchea. And therein lies the most horrific aspect of the brutality of the Khmer Rouge: Their actions, as motivated by their geographical imaginations, were considered just’. (Pg 168)


Header: Mick Yates. 2017. Trees in the Mist.

GENOCIDE STUDIES PROGRAM, Yale University. Undated. Maps of Cambodia. Available at: https://gsp.yale.edu/related-websites/cambodian-genocide?page=5 (accessed 10/07/2019).

MILLS, Sarah. 2003. Michel Foucault. Abingdon: Routledge.

RELPH, Edward. 1976. Place and Placelessness. 2008 Edition. London: Sage.

TYNER, James A. 2008. The Killing of Cambodia: Geography, Genocide and the Unmasking of Space. Abingdon: Routledge.