Roderic Broadhurst, "Violence and the Civilising Process in Cambodia" (Cambridge UP, 2015)


The work of sociologist Norbert Elias has had a renaissance in recent times, with Steven Pinker, among others, using it to argue that interpersonal violence has declined globally as states have expanded and subdued restless populations. In Violence and the Civilising Process in Cambodia (Cambridge University Press, 2015), Roderic Broadhurst and his co-authors Thierry and Brigette Bouhours bring the declinist thesis to Southeast Asia. Coupling Elias's approach with criminological theory, Broadhurst and the Bouhours argue that Cambodia's experience over a 150 years is broadly consistent with what Elias found in Europe: that by monopolising force, generating chains of interdependence, and sensitising people to violence, states have an overall civilising effect. This is a startling and counterintuitive finding for a country whose name was not so long ago synonymous with genocide. But, Broadhurst and co-authors explain, the civilizing process is not linear. Asia like Europe has had its decivilising periods, and it might yet have some more. The overall trend, nevertheless, is away from violence and towards civility. Roderic Broadhurst joins New Books in Southeast Asian Studies to talk about state violence versus interpersonal violence, French colonial administration, postcolonialism and modernity, Sihanouk and the Khmer Rouge, Hun Sen and authoritarianism, and the challenges of doing historical sociology across multiple regime types and periods. You may also be interested in: Astrid Noren-Nilsson, Cambodia's Second Kingdom: Nation, Imagination, and Democracy Abram de Swaan, The Killing Compartments: The Mentality of Mass Murder
Nick Cheesman is a fellow at the College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University. He can be reached at

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Nick Cheesman

Host, Interpretive Political and Social Science; sometimes contributor, Southeast Asian Studies
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