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Walking with the Ghost: On Autoethnography and the Study of Familial and Historical Violence

Thursday, April 27, 2023 at 12:30pm

Kahin Center
640 Stewart Ave, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA

Gatty Lecture Series

Join us for a talk by Lina Chhun, (Assistant Professor, Department of American Studies, University of Texas at Austin), who will discuss oral histories in Cambodian American communities.

This Gatty Lecture will take place at the Kahin Center, but people are also welcome to join us on Zoom. Lunch will be served. For questions, contact 

Participate by Zoom here.

About the Talk

In 2009, I began the oral history project that would lead to my book. At the time, I conceptualized my project as one of “uprooting the koh tree,” of dispelling silences within my family and those within the Cambodian American community at large. My master’s thesis, entitled “Uprooting the Koh Tree: Silence and Resilience in Cambodian Narratives of Survival,” was an autoethnography of my own memories and experiences growing up as the daughter of genocide survivors. This autoethnography drew from oral history interviews with members of my family to explore what I considered at the time “the cultures of silence among [Cambodian] immigrants and their children.” Through this narrative—what I have come to see as deeply problematic, a reproduction of well-trod progress narratives from silence to disclosure as the basis of liberal subjectivity—the project intended to serve as “a bridge between generations of survivors, largely disconnected” because of these various silences. In the years since the completion of my master’s thesis—a period of over ten years which saw the project through two graduate programs and multiple disciplinary and interdisciplinary spaces—I have come to understand the possible violence of that initial framing. This presentation is one iteration and one working through of the attachments and tensions I’ve encountered and continue to encounter in doing this work on violence at the intersection of the personal, familial, and historical.

About the Speaker

Lina Chhun was born in Khao-I-Dang, a refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border and spent most of her life growing up in California’s Central Valley. Professor Chhun studies historical violence, war, and militarism, with a focus on questions of racial disposability in the context of the U.S. Cold War in Southeast Asia. Her first book manuscript, Walking with the Ghost, queries the complex relationship between registers of memory regarding the U.S. Cold War in Southeast Asia and the Cambodian Holocaust of 1975-79, addressing questions of commemoration and mediation—how and why historical violence comes to be registered, understood, and written into the record via such mediums as archives, landscapes, and experiential narratives. The book challenges historical models of “tragedy” and liberal humanitarian discourses of trauma, approaches which disavow the complex humanity of Cambodian subjects and the continually intersubjective ways in which knowledge about violence is produced and reproduced, nationally and across the diaspora.


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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, Southeast Asia Program, Anthropology, Migrations


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Southeast Asia Program

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Lina Chhun

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University of Texas at Austin

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