The Khmer Rouge, Ritual and Control

in Asian Journal of Social Science
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On April 17th 1975 the communist party of Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge, took power and evacuated the cities forcing citizens into the countryside while killing many in an attempt to eradicate members of the previous government of the Khmer Republic, as well as former soldiers, intellectuals, and artists. The Khmer Rouge employed various tactics to increase their power during this time including the elimination of ritual practices such as dance dramas, family ceremonies, and religious activities. Drawing upon memoirs, autobiographies, and other sources as well as structural ritualisation theory these developments are analysed using the concepts of strategic deritualisation and strategic ritualisation. After the elimination of important rituals the Khmer Rouge implemented new propaganda based rituals in an attempt to instill their beliefs into the minds of peasants and youth while creating a debilitating fear in the previous city dwellers. These rituals included attending speeches, singing emotionally charged revolutionary songs, and attending dance dramas depicting the glory of the revolution and its leader “Angkar.” Implications of the study are discussed especially in regard to the role ritual dynamics can play in social control and extremist (sometimes genocidal) regimes.

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