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Irrigating a Socialist Utopia: Disciplinary Space and Population Control under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-1979

Author(s): Daniel Bultmann

Journal: Transcience : a Journal of Global Studies
ISSN 2191-1150

Volume: 3;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 40;
Date: 2012;
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Keywords: Cambodia | Khmer Rouge | disciplinary space | population control | Michel Foucault

The article shows how the Khmer Rouge's restructuring of the environment into a socialist utopian space could be explained as an attempt to establish and tighten control over the populace and the factionalized movement. By inscribing power structures into the environment, the Khmer Rouge tried to 'create' loyal and faithful subjects. Michel Foucault's concepts of a 'disciplinary space' and panoptical control help to understand the massive environmental reshaping and it's connection to the regime's struggle for legitimation and control. Measures like the nationwide reconstruction of the irrigation system, sending the populace to the rice fields for a 'thought reform' through productive labor as well as an all-encompassing system of terror aimed at the transformation of the deviant populace into perfectly socialist people, whose daily life in the collective and personal necessities were planned down to the very last detail. The deviant nature of space and the deviant people populating it had to be rebuilt and disciplined until every little gesture, every thought, every construction in the nation's irrigation system corresponded to the socialist model. This attempt to construct an ideal socialist environment and its neglect of the diversity of topological requirements, furthermore, resulted in crop failures playing a significant role in the occurences of famines leading to subsequent starvation in the populace. Moreover, it also helps to explain the spiral of mistrust of the party's upper echelon against local leaders, which led to factional purges. The article, thereby, also highlights the complex and irreducible interplay between space and the micropolitics of power.

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