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VIDEO DOI: https://doi.org/10.48448/rw74-gr91

technical paper

AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

The Egg Versus the Rock: The Limits of Engaged Anthropology Among Activists


public policy


In 2017, Cambodian and American activists, alongside the Cambodian Government, temporarily halted deportations of Cambodian American refugees from the U.S. However, mere months later, after the United States Government issued retaliatory visa sanctions against Cambodia, deportations not only resumed, but increased in frequency and number, and included more disabled and dying individuals. Nonetheless, activists argue these efforts sparked more “wins” in the fight to change deportation policy, thereby exemplifying “the egg versus the rock”•a Khmer maxim used to signify when those with relatively less power (the egg) challenge those with more (the rock). When the two collide, although the egg ultimately loses, it still stains, and therefore damages, the rock. With this aphorism as a starting point, I ask what it means to engage in such policy challenges to the deportation of Cambodian American refugees with lawful permanent residency in the United States. Thinking through both the above-mentioned example as well as lawsuits and pardon campaigns to halt individual deportations, I seek to destabilize static notions of who has power, and examine the role of the activist anthropologist in navigating and understanding these complex policy frameworks. Furthermore, I interrogate what it means to conduct fieldwork with various stakeholders as they attempt to enact such grassroots-level policy change•particularly when such changes have unforeseen consequences. Finally, I attend to the discomfort that emerges when the activist anthropologist is asked to engage in efforts that she believes may be contrary to the overall goals of the movement or may otherwise harm her interlocutors.


Transcript English (automatic)

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