Jonathan Padwe, "Disturbed Forests, Fragmented Memories: Jarai and Other Lives in the Cambodian Highlands" (U Washington Press, 2020)

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Cambodia’s troubled history has often been depicted in terms of conflict, trauma and tussles between great powers. In Disturbed Forests, Fragmented Memories: Jarai and Other Lives in the Cambodian Highlands (U Washington Press, 2020), Jonathan Padwe assembles this history from narrative pieces by and of the Jarai, an ethnic minority living in the country’s highlands. Demonstrating how landscapes and social formations simultaneously changed each other, the book takes a reader through the various historical conjunctures - the Jarai’s agency in opening up pre-capitalist resources frontiers; the colonial state’s attempted rationalization of the landscape through rubber enterprises; trauma and displacement during the Vietnam War and the Khmer Rouge regime and re-diversification of the scarred land in recent years. In the process of accessing these histories, the book analyzes forest biota and agricultural practices, enabling a new approach to conceptualizing landscapes that melds representation, materiality and ecology.

In this episode, we discuss how to approach ethnography in inaccessible places, conceptualizations of nature-culture, ecological de-diversification and re-diversification and how bombs could be remembered as flowers falling from the sky.

Jonathan Padwe is associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. His research interests center on social and environmental change in mainland Southeast Asian uplands, issues of equity and equality in development and indigenous identities.

Faizah Zakaria is assistant professor of history at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. You can find her website at or reach her on Twitter @laurelinarien.

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