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In Pursuit of Urban Resilience
1  University of Ottawa


Resilience has become ubiquitous as a policy goal, despite a lack of consensus and often outright confusion as to its exact definition. Cambodia is no exception. Given the country’s high level of exposure to economic losses due to climate change, the national government is actively pursuing policies which purport to cultivate resilience, with the support and often leadership of development partners. But what does this pursuit of resilience mean for communities on the frontline of climate change and urbanization? This case study, based on more than 8 months of field work in Phnom Penh, examines how a community of urban farmers is watching their livelihood slowly unravel thanks to the duel processes of human-induced environmental change and urban expansion. Contrary to policy narratives that optimistically point to community-based adaptation as a way to preserve traditional practices, urban farmers do not see a future in agriculture. Instead, their vision of the future centres around the family unit, rather than the wider community and is dominated by the need to invest in the education of children and leave behind their precarious livelihood. This highlights the disconnect between the discourse of resilience and the real aspirations of urban dwellers. Does this mean resilience is not the right objective for Cambodia’s climate change policy? Or is it feasible to pursue a more nuanced version of resilience that represents the diversity of urban residents?

Keywords: Cambodia; urban agriculture; urbanization; environmental change