Sub-National Civil Society in Cambodia: A Gramscian Perspective
Several authors (particularly Laundau 2008; Henke 2011) label Cambodian national civil society as a sphere that is neither apolitical nor autonomous, but influenced or co-opted by and blurred with the state. They posit that a Gramscian perspective is relevant to interpreting civil society in the country. This article suggests that the application of a Gramscian perspective also proves relevant to sub-national civil society in Cambodia. The sub-national state has recently politicised and co-opted village development committees and imposed restrictions on civil society, and the latter has compromised its autonomy, and memberships have blurred as the state joined in. Also relevant is civil society’s insistence on and ability to retain its independence and achieve its objectives, leaving the sub-national state’s hegemonic project incomplete, as Gramsci argued. Even so, Gramsci’s concept does not apply to some cases where the sub-national state and civil society could cooperate on a win-win basis. The sub-national state’s behaviour is rather heterogeneous, permitting space for some civil society groups to operate more freely in some locations and at some levels (especially the commune and village tiers). Beyond the findings, the research proposes that perhaps it is time for sub-national civil society to redefine itself from being completely “autonomous” (as characterised by the liberal perspective) from the state yet engaged with it, to working to instigate change from within.
Key Words: Cambodia, civil society, Gramsci, NGO, CBO, autonomy, hegemony