Debt‐Bonded Brick Kiln Workers and Their Intent to Return: Towards a Labour Geography of Smallholder Farming Persistence in Cambodia

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Despite the increasing preponderance of non-farm work in Cambodia, labour migrants across a range of working conditions remain linked to their rural homesteads through durable financial and social arrangements. This article explores this phenomenon through the case of debt-bonded brick kiln workers in Phnom Penh, formerly smallholder farmers in villages. Drawing on the field of labour geography, the article first examines the process by which labourers became debt-bonded, thus situating them within the country’s broader process of agrarian transition and recasting peasants as rural labour. It then explores workers’ perceptions of rural life, suggesting that the unfreedom of kiln work, contrasted with the fixedness and potential for mobility in rural life makes workers aspire to return to their land. The article ultimately highlights how ‘peasant persistence’ can be understood as an issue of poor work under neoliberalism in Cambodia, and draws light on the agency of labour in understanding this.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1581-1599
Number of pages19
Issue number5
Early online date19 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019

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