The cultural transmission of morals : a case study of Western visitors to Cambodia's genocide museums

by Lily Ivanova

Institution: University of British Columbia
Department: Sociology
Degree: MA- MA
Year: 2015
Record ID: 2058003
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/2429/51859


The “new” sociology of morality has issued a call for research. This revival movement has focused on combining findings in cultural sociology with new findings in cognitive science to identify morality as a “cultural schema” or habitus-like framework which shapes individual action. While invaluable, this research addresses only half of the equation. In line with previous theoretical work in cultural sociology, this paper endeavours to examine both the production and consumption processes through which morality is transmitted. The paper relies on data from an empirical study of visitor experiences to two genocide museums in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Material from both museums was analyzed to find two parallel narratives of genocide running through the museums : an emphasis on the universal nature of the genocide to appeal to international visitors, and an account of the particularities of the genocide to serve domestic political goals. To trace the reception of the museum claims, 45 in-depth interviews with Western visitors were analyzed. I found four “types” of experiences at the museums based on different ways visitors incorporated new information about the genocide into their existing schemas : firm universalism, push-over universalism, adamant relativism and new converts to relativism. While the majority of visitors had stable experiences, reinforcing pre-existing “schemas” (moral frameworks) of universalism or relativism, some visitors did have transformative experiences, where information about the Cambodian genocide overhauled existing schemas of genocide. Beyond the sociology of morality, these findings hold significant implication for globalization studies. What political implications do stable and transformative moral experiences at genocide museums have for genocide?