Rural-urban migration and social exclusion among Cambodian youth: Discourses and narratives from Phnom Penh
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A critical ethnographic approach is used to analyse patterns of social exclusion among young rural-urban migrants in Cambodia. Since the 1990s, Cambodian society has experienced a rapid transformation as a series of neoliberal policies have spurred high levels of urbanisation and economic growth, made possible by a newly flexible, young labour force. This project utilises social exclusion as a lens through which to examine the relations between these migrants and wider society, paying particular attention to the dynamic roles of social relations, space, culture and identity. A poststructuralist discourse analysis of newspaper articles and music videos firstly maps out dominant representations of rurality, urbanity and migration, which have the power to govern popular imaginations of migrants‘ relationships with society. Four months of fieldwork, including 20 life history interviews with migrants, provide narratives through which to examine the impact of migration on their lives and to explore subjective conceptions of their relationships with multiple facets of society. The findings show that dominant discourses portray absolute, dichotomous images of urban and rural culture, which neglect the fluidity and hybridity shown to exist among migrant identities. Furthermore, beyond the tightly-knit friendship groups created by young migrants in Phnom Penh, social relations tend to lack diversity; rural-urban migrants provided narratives of discrimination and collective exclusion from different segments of society. Spatially, access to the urban ―centre is limited to the privileged, while those on periphery - such as many rural-urban migrants - are excluded from the benefits of urban living. Finally, migrants adopt urban identities to varying degree, dependent on their social positioning but their identities are unanimously underscored by strong cultural roots in their homelands, evidenced by frequent visits and future aspirations to return home. Throughout the project, these dimensions of social exclusion have been theorised as subjective, fluid, overlapping and mutually constitutive. The social, spatial and cultural elements of migrants‘ narratives investigated via the interviews collide and intersect, supporting more critical conceptions of social exclusion as a theory.