‘Sponsorship’: An Exploration of Sexuality, Agency, Socialisation, and Competence in Local English Language Practices in Cambodia

"資助交往" ─ 探索柬埔寨地區英語實踐中的性、能動性、社會化及交際能力

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Award date7 Mar 2017


The aim of this thesis is to explore the intersections of language, identity, sexuality, learning, and agency with relation to a particular social practice, identified as taking place in the tourist city of Siem Reap, Cambodia. This practice is locally referred to as ‘sponsorship’, and is indicative of a kind of relationship formed between local men and western men who meet in the contact zones of the city’s gay spaces. This is a practice that often results in the acquisition of both social and economic capital for these local men, enabling them to pursue their dreams of making better lives for themselves and their families. In assuming the position that local social practices produce local language practices, this study takes the language used by participants in interactions surrounding this practice as its primary focus of analysis. As such, it is located as a poststructuralist and critical study in applied linguistics that seeks to explore aspects of local communicative competencies in English, learned and developed through relevant language socialisation processes. These are seen as being specific competencies needed to participate in, and justify, the social practice of sponsorship, ‘relocalized’ as a local language practice in this setting (Pennycook, 2010). Adopting the research methodology of linguistic ethnography, the analysis aims to draw attention to how knowledges associated with these competencies and actions emerge through the language practices of participants. Furthermore, it aims to investigate how these knowledges are informed by sexual and other identity positions made possible through broader discourses circulating in this setting. This, as the analysis means to demonstrate, is a discursive field constituted by both local sociohistorical processes and current global conditions.

The thesis begins by establishing the research conducted for this study as a process of narrative knowledging (Barkhuizen, 2011). This is with the aim of assembling the various stories and accounts told by participants to interpret the significance of the social practice under discussion from their perspectives. It is this constructed narrative that guides the overall shape of this research project and hence this thesis. For this study, the researcher conducted a number of fieldwork trips to Siem Reap and established relations and friendships with local participants, both Cambodian and non-Cambodian. The researcher’s narrative of developing awareness and knowledge, as he moved towards the position of trusted insider and potential participant in this practice, therefore forms a substantial part of the narrative analysed in this thesis. The research decisions and ethical considerations made during the processes of ethnographic fieldwork are, in the light of this personal narrative, highlighted and discussed.

The data for this study mainly consists of transcribed interview extracts recorded between the researcher and participants. By way of a poststructuralist discourse analysis, encompassing a positioning analysis of narrative accounts or small stories emerging from the interaction, it has been possible to demonstrate how participants make sense of sponsorship practices through the language they use. For example, the various subject positions they speak from account for how sponsorship is defined through local discourses of development and opportunity but, at the same time, how it is problematised as a form of sexual transaction. In addition, their perspectives reveal how socialisation processes of learning are made relevant towards the development of competencies needed to understand and take an agentic role in initiating, maintaining, justifying, and, in some cases, resisting participation in this practice. The ethnographic perspective adopted for this study works in tandem with this analysis by linking commonalities in participant accounts to the experiences of the researcher and the identification of broader discourses circulating in this setting. The micro analysis of language in interaction is therefore complemented by data from other relevant texts including the field journals of the researcher.

Finally, the process of narrative knowledging that has sought to explore the social/ language practices of same sex sponsorship in Cambodia is brought to a conclusion in consideration of the study’s implications. This is to discuss the potential contribution studies of this type should continue to make to the field of applied linguistics, in terms of both theory and methodology. Ultimately, it is to call for further engagement with the perspectives of social actors, operating in marginalised places away from the metropole and often participating in marginalised practices. These are people whose subjugated knowledges have all too often been ignored, but who have a powerful contribution to make in furthering our understanding of how language practices are constituted by the actions needed to get ahead in a globalised, transnational world.