Educational Privatization in Cambodia (September 2012 – August 2015)

Enacting Educational Spaces: A Landscape Portrait of Privatization in Cambodia

PhD Dissertation Research at the University of Hong Kong, Faculty of Education

Educational privatization has received increasing scholarly attention in recent decades. In much of this work, educational privatization is viewed as the outcomes of certain government policies or as the result of the influences of education businesses in school systems. My study of one community in Cambodia builds on this work by focusing on the ways privatization has been enacted by individuals through their social relations: the situated practices of interactions and interrelations among them.

In Cambodia, the history of social upheavals throughout the 20th Century, which resulted in a large share of education costs paid by households and international aid, provides an instructive arena for exploring the diverse ways in which individuals enact educational privatization. I begin by studying individuals through the method of portraiture. I situate six portraits of individuals, each of whom occupies a different role in society, in terms of the ways in which they are contextualized in time (through their biographies) and space (through their social relations).

By focusing on each individual’s social relations within specific times and places, I extend the method of portraiture. The addition of the extended case study and the use of morphogenesis as an analytical approach to social change show the intersection between space, place, and time within each portrait. The combination of the multiple portraits creates a relational sense among the individuals, together constructing a portrait of Cambodia’s educational landscape in one specific location. I call this a landscape portrait.

The landscape portrait combines Henri Lefebvre’s spatial triad — perceived, conceived, and lived spaces — with his concept of “lived time” to theorize educational privatization as a collection of processes and practices in everyday life. “Perceived spaces” are different situated practices of socio-economic processes by individuals who use and create space. I map these perceived spaces beyond mainstream schooling and include private places of education, such as fee-based private tutoring classes, NGO schools, churches, and pagodas. “Conceived spaces,” which are representations of space in the minds of individuals, consist of discursive knowledge related to neoliberalism, human capital theory, and the notion of progress, as well as ideas related to inequality, social injustice, and corruption. These ideological conceptions are represented in each individual’s ideal plan for education. “Lived spaces” emerge from perceived and conceived spaces, and help people make sense of their lives and choices through the promulgation of desires and myths. Across the six portraits, the desire for education is depicted as an individual endeavor where one must do anything and everything to obtain as much of it as possible.

My work develops the literature on educational privatization by offering a spatial and temporal analysis of the forces shaping the behavior of individuals and their social relations in a specific context. This analysis shows how educational privatization is not only a process of government policy but also a social practice. The everyday lives of individuals are therefore seen as playing an integral role in enacting spaces of educational privatization.

Outputs of project


Brehm, W. (in press). “Private Tutoring in Southeast Asia:  Knowledge Economies, Positional Goods, and the History of Clientelism.” In Kennedy, K. and Chi-Kin Lee, J. (Eds) Handbook on Schools and Schooling in Asia. Routledge.

Brehm, W. (2017). The is and the ought of Knowing: Ontological Observations on Shadow Education Research in Cambodia. Southeast Asian Studies, 6(3), 485-503. (pdf)

Brehm, W. (2017). Historical memory and educational privatization: A portrait from Cambodia. Ethnography and Education. DOI: 10.1080/17457823.2017.1387065 (pdf)

Brehm, W.C. (2016) “The contemporary landscape of education in Cambodia: Hybrid Spaces of the ‘Public’ and ‘Private.’” In K. Brickell and S. Springer Handbook of Contemporary Cambodia (271-282), Routledge. (pdf)

Brehm, W. C. (2016). “The structures and agents enabling educational corruption in Cambodia: Shadow education and the business of examinations.” In Y. Kitamura, D.B. Edwards Jr., S. Chhinn, & J. Williams. (Eds.). The political economy of schooling in Cambodia: Issues of equity and quality(pp.99-119). New York: Palgrave MacMillan. (pdf)

Brehm, W.C. (2015). Enacting Educational Spaces: A Landscape Portrait of Privatization in Cambodia. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, the University of Hong Kong. (pdf)

Brehm, W.C. (2015). “Cambodia – the embattled teacher” in J. Evers and R. Kneyber (eds). Flip the system: Changing education from the ground up, (pp. 45-47). Routledge. (read online)



“Enacting Educational Spaces: A Landscape Portrait of Privatization in Cambodia” presented at the presented at the annual Comparative and International Education Society conference, Vancouver, Canada, (March 8, 2016).

“The structures and agents enabling educational corruption in Cambodia: Shadow education and the business of examination” presented at the annual Comparative and International Education Society conference, Washington DC, (March 12, 2015).

“Governance and situated practices of marketization: The supplementary education industry in East Asia” presented at the UNESCO expert meeting on Changing Dynamics in the Governance of Education, Paris, France (December 5, 2014).

“The challenges of portraying private tutoring: Methodological reflections on using portraiture and the morphogenetic approach to social change in Cambodia” presented at the Shadow Education Special Interest Group meeting, The University of Hong Kong (November 11, 2014).

“The cultural mechanisms producing hybrid education in Cambodia: Towards a dialectical critical cultural political economy of education” presented at the annual Comparative and International Education Society conference, Toronto, Canada (March 14, 2014)

“Private Complementary Tutoring in Cambodia: Gender and Equity Implications” presented at the annual Comparative and International Education Society conference, New Orleans, USA (March 12, 2013).

“Development Efforts in a Time of Educational Capitalism: The Effects of Shadow Education on the Nation-State in Cambodia” presented at the 8th Annual Conference of The Asian Studies Association of Hong Kong (March 8, 2013).

“Theorizing Educational Capitalism: Shadows, commodities, and social relations” Comparative Education Society of Hong Kong, Chinese University of Hong Kong (February 23, 2013).

“From Human Capital Theory to Educational Capitalism: Critiquing the Privatization of Public Education in Cambodia” Special seminar presented at Center for South East Asian Studies, Monash Asia Institute, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia (February 15, 2013).

“Challenging Commonplace Assumptions about Rean Kua: An Investment in Human Capital, A Need for Good Governance, or a Manifestation of Educational Capitalism?” special seminar presented at the Center for Khmer Studies in Siem Reap, Cambodia (January 15, 2013).