Phnom Penh During the Cambodian Genocide: A Case of Selective Urbicide

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Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space

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Phnom Penh, genocide, Cambodia, urbicide, urban geopolitics


Economic History | Geography | Human Geography


Phnom Penh, as it existed during the Cambodian genocide (1975–79), has been held up as a textbook example of urbicide. However, this representation is not entirely accurate, for Phnom Penh remained a vital city during this period. While the depopulation of Phnom Penh during the Cambodian genocide has received considerable analytic attention, decidedly less research has focused on the city as a ‘command-and-control’ node in an integrated space-economy. Far from being a ‘city with no people’, Phnom Penh served as a functioning city and was the catalytic center-point of Khmer Rouge policy and practice. In this paper we begin the task of mapping Phnom Penh as it existed during the years 1975–79. Specifically, we identify and map the location of four broad types of economic institution: administrative, production, distributive, and ancillary. In so doing, we argue that such a geographically informed analysis of Phnom Penh is necessary for it provides the spatial foundation for an understanding of Khmer Rouge practice.