Dark tourism, the phenomenon of visiting sites associated with death and suffering, is on the rise. Key sites for visitors include Auschwitz-Birkenau, Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh Cambodia, Ground Zero, Alcatraz and Robben Island.
Such sites are founded on traumatic loss and large-scale victimisation. Yet research on dark tourism often focuses on the experiences of tourists and the custodial and managerial practices of those running the sites. Under-researched are issues such as the representation of victims’ voices at such sites, the extent to which victims are able to exercise agency and ownership of their narratives and the ways in which the complexity of victimhood in post-conflict or post-authoritarian contexts may be (mis)represented.
This project explores these themes in the context of Cambodia. Since 1980 the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide and Choeung Ek Killing Fields have been used as evidence of the Khmer Rouge regime’s crimes, as well as sites of memorialization and education. Drawing on interviews with survivors of the regime, as well as other actors connected to the sites, this project will ask questions such as: how do victims of the Khmer Rouge regime regard Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek? Whose voices are heard, and whose voices are silenced, within the two sites? To what extent are victims able to exercise ownership over the stories which are told? How are hierarchies of victimhood represented within the sites? Are sites of mass atrocity an appropriate place in which to explore the complexities of mass violence?
The project is led by Dr Cheryl Lawther, with co-investigators Dr Rachel Killean and Dr Lauren Dempster. The project is being conducted in partnership with the ‘Promoting Accountability’ section of the Documentation Centre for Cambodia, an independent Cambodian research institute with a reputation as a leader in the quest for memory and justice.