Negotiating Modernity within the Traditional

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There have been many major political events in Cambodia over the past thirty years which have torn great holes in the fabric of Cambodian society. Since the 1970’s, these gaps have been partially filled by the influences of foreign media and global cultural ideas and norms. These powerful influences, coupled with globalisation, have profoundly impacted upon Cambodian tradition and cultural norms including the construction of gender identity among adolescents and young adults. Srey kalip translates loosely as “modern woman.” The connotations of srey kalip over the years have ranged from highly derogatory to intimations of sophistication. Historically, a srey kalip was a woman who looked and acted foreign. This research study was conducted using in depth interviews and focus groups to investigate the ways in which these influences have changed the production of young female sexuality compared to the identity held by the previous generation. This information is used in conjunction with a larger study to help identify reproductive health priorities in young Cambodian females who are not considered “high risk” by aid agencies addressing reproductive health needs for women. Rapid globalisation and shifting cultural ideals influence sexuality in Cambodia today. One notable finding from this study includes the conflict of young women wanting to be modern but maintaining an image of a “good girl”. This “good girl” representation includes maintaining virginity until marriage (or the perception of virginity), being soft spoken and obedient. These young women struggle between being modern and the need to conform to a traditional image of a Khmer woman according to the Chbab Srey. This research utilizes a combination of Anthony Gidden’s theory of modernity and globalisation and Sheldon Stryker’s identity theory to illuminate the complex construction of living locally with global ideals.


Keywords: Identity, Gender, Modernity, Globalisation, Young Female, Adolescents, Cambodia, Sexuality, Reproductive Health
Stream: Anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Studies, Humanities
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Katia Peterson

Doctoral Student, School of Population Health
Department of International Health and Tropical Medicine, University of Queensland

Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

I am a doctoral student at the University of Queensland in Brisbane Australia. My research interest is in cultures undergoing rapid cultural transition and the effects upon reprodutive health care and sexuality. The focus of my current research is among young urban women in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I have a B.S. and a MPH from The George Washington University in Washington, DC. I will graduate with a PhD in December 2008.

Ref: I08P0036