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Zombie resistance: Reanimated labour struggles and the legal geographies of authoritarian neoliberalism in Cambodia

Lawreniuk, Sabina



As neoliberalism lurches through its zombie phase – intellectually dead but dominant – critical scholars chart the global ascendancy of authoritarian variants of neoliberalism. Distinguished, in particular, by the rise of constitutional and legal strategies to contain dissent and entrench exclusion, authors call for attention to the role of law in reproducing and regulating neoliberal policy. Previous research on the intersections of law and neoliberalism tends to emphasise law's role in maintaining rather than subverting hegemony. In this paper, I move away from domination-oriented accounts to consider the potential for resistance. I argue that renewed dialogue with legal geography and its erstwhile emphasis on contingency can recentre the agonistic dimensions of authoritarian rollout. I draw on evidence collected through a three-year institutional ethnography of the labour movement in Cambodia, examining the impacts of the 2016 Law on Trade Unions on labour and labour organising in the garment and footwear industry. I show how the law frustrates and criminalises union organisation in an attempt to insulate the state from the growing discontent provoked by Cambodia's uneven neoliberal development. In doing so, however, the law has inadvertently centred the state as the direct target of popular labour struggles no longer contained within disciplining trade union channels. By drawing attention to the complex entanglements of everyday activism and state efforts to contain dissent, the paper highlights the contradictions that manifest in the consolidation of authoritarian neoliberalism. I argue that legal geography helps elucidate how these contradictions are productive of new forms of crisis, where the rollout of zombie neoliberalism spawns recurrent reanimations of zombie resistance.


Lawreniuk, S. (2023). Zombie resistance: Reanimated labour struggles and the legal geographies of authoritarian neoliberalism in Cambodia. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 48(1), 39-55.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 8, 2022
Online Publication Date Jul 15, 2022
Publication Date 2023-03
Deposit Date Jul 15, 2022
Publicly Available Date Jul 16, 2024
Journal Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers
Print ISSN 0020-2754
Electronic ISSN 1475-5661
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 48
Issue 1
Pages 39-55
Keywords Earth-Surface Processes; Geography, Planning and Development
Public URL
Publisher URL


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