Modes of identity and belonging among noncitizen Vietnamese children living in Cambodia

  • Charlie Rumsby

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This thesis provides an analysis of an understudied area of belonging by studying the lives of those deemed to be doubly marginal: stateless children. Statelessness is an emerging topic of research that so far has been dominated by legal analyses; this thesis proposes an alternative approach to the study of statelessness and belonging that goes beyond legal considerations. It offers a framework to think about belonging as something experienced in a simultaneous and multi-directional way: from above, below and beside. It does this by ethnographically exploring the political and affective dimensions of belonging, through the intimate worlds of Cambodia’s de facto stateless Vietnamese. Whilst the children in this study might be invisible on paper, or until now have been missing from the scholarship on statelessness in Cambodia, this thesis demonstrates how their daily lives and their active attempts to find meaningful belonging makes visible both their agency, and the restrictions on their agency, to make such decisions.
    In demonstrating how meaningful belonging is achieved in spaces of invisibility, this thesis makes evident that statelessness does not equate to ontological dehumanisation, which is often the picture painted by a strict legal analysis of those living without citizenship. Rather, children are able to negotiate problematic social positioning and access opportunities through relationships formed locally, and within transnational organisations that open up new possibilities to belong, albeit in a context of precarity and frequent setbacks and tragedy. As noncitizens, these children are shown to be active agents tactfully negotiating the boundaries of inclusion and exclusion. This research therefore fills a gap in thinking around children’s statelessness, identity and belonging. It speaks to the burgeoning literature on children’s geographies, the sociology of citizenship, rights and belonging and adds to an understanding of the anthropology of childhood. As such, themes in this thesis pertain to a discussion on citizenship, human rights, morality, religious conversion, ethnicity and inter-generational mobilities. Thus, this project is interdisciplinary in nature but has an anthropological undercurrent reflecting my engagement with the literature and approach to the research design.
    Date of AwardFeb 2019
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorMichael Hardy (Supervisor) & Heaven Crawley (Supervisor)

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