Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Limited State and Strong Social Forces: Fishing Lot Management in Cambodia

Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Limited State and Strong Social Forces: Fishing Lot Management in Cambodia

Article excerpt

In 2000, growing frustrated with the widespread illegal activities in the inland fisheries sector, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly rebuked his officials: 'Some government officials have been using the fishing lot systems as their "chhnangbai" [cooking pots], in exchange for pay-offs guaranteeing impunity for any violation of the law by the concessionaires. Some of these men, they are really corrupt. They don't eat fish, [sic] they eat money'. (1) Since his reprimand, the fisheries sector has seen little positive change, however. This article thus examines evidence that the Cambodian state's capacity to manage its fisheries is greatly limited by powerful social forces, i.e. fishing lot concessionaires and operators. It shows how these social groups became powerful, as well as how the interactions and various forms of collusion between concessionaires and some state agents have hindered the proper management of Cambodian fisheries.

The research is qualitative. Besides using data from primary and secondary documents, I employed in-depth and focus group interviews with key informants to collect necessary data. Snowball sampling was used to identify and contact respondents for the interviews and discussions. In all, 65 individuals in two provinces (2) around the Great Lake were interviewed by the author between March and July 2011; there were 19 solo and paired interviews and 5 focus group discussions. Participants included fishers, community fisheries committee (CFC) members, lot concessionaires and operators, fisheries officials at all levels, local authorities, NGO staff, and a researcher (Appendix A).

The article begins with an overview of theories of state capacity in relation to the fragmentation of social control. It then discusses the origins, development, and current state of the fishing lot system in Cambodia. The next section investigates why and how these concessionaires have impeded the state's capacity to manage its fisheries. The subsequent section examines how these social forces emerged and how they maintain their de facto dominance.

Social control fragmentation and state capacity

A state's capacity to manage its resources and govern society can be affected by a number of intertwining factors. Joel Migdal explains what happens when social control is fragmented, and a state is unable to subordinate 'people's own inclinations of social behavior or behaviors sought by other social organisations in favor of the behavior prescribed by state rules'. (3) In such conditions, some societal actors will recognise the state's dominance and its rule-making authority, while others will try to capture sufficient control over material and human resources to adopt their own rules and/or to endorse desired practices, (4) for their own benefit, at the expense of the state and other citizens. In developing countries, given the fierce struggle for domination between the state and social forces, 'social control exercised even by small social organisations tucked away in remote areas constrains the state tremendously'. (5) When power is fragmented in this way, neither the state nor society can claim to have precedence over the other because '[societies affect states as much as, or possibly more than, states affect societies.' In policy areas, especially ones which 'demand changes in behavior' of a broad segment of the citizens, the state usually fares poorly. (6)

Jeff Haynes concurs that the incapacity of many least developed countries results from 'political and societal fragmentation'. Similarly, Neil Englehart and Harold Crouch argue that a state with limited capacity may have difficulty enforcing its rules and experience blatant violations of its laws by private actors, and hence cannot exercise 'full control over society'. (7) Formal and informal groups, forces or social movements heavily influence policy and vie for 'who establishes the procedures' by deploying different 'sanctions, rewards, and symbols'. …

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