Dr Katrin Travouillon

BA (Hons) and MA (Frankfurt/Oder), PhD, Political Science (Marburg)
ANU College of Asia and the Pacific


I first visited Cambodia in 2005 and spent half a year in a small rural village in Takeo province to conduct a survey for an international development organization. I have been fascinated by the country, its people and the Khmer language ever since. At the time, German universities did not offer any Cambodian language courses. To develop my language skills, I therefore relied on the help of my generous and patient Cambodian colleagues and friends, who invited me into their houses in Phnom Penh, Takeo, and Berlin.  

During my studies, my research and teaching was still dedicated to a critical assessment of the increasing securitization of EU migration and refugee politics. I was one of the lead authors of two large-scale research projects on migrant labour exploitation in Germany, commissioned by the German government. I continued to visit Cambodia, worked as an Election Observer during the 2008 parliamentarian election, interned in the National Assembly of Cambodia, and contributed to the design and implementation of projects in the civil society sector.

In 2010 I successfully applied to lead the Cambodian case study in the DFG (German Research Foundation) funded project “The Institutionalization of Interpretative Authority in Post-Conflict Societies. An Analysis of the Transitional Authority in Kosovo and Cambodia”. This project at the Center for Conflict Studies (Philipps University, Marburg) provided me with the long-awaited opportunity to switch focus and dedicate my academic career to researching Cambodia’s political transformation. It resulted in my doctoral dissertation “Speaking to an imagined community. How the Paris Peace Agreements shaped ideas of the new political order in Cambodia 1991-1993”.  

From 2010 until 2014, I followed the trail of documents left by the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC, 1992-99) around the world: I worked in archives in Cambodia, France, and the United States. In 2015, I moved to Los Angeles. From 2016 to 2018, I was a Tobis Fellow at the University of California Irvine (UCI).

In September of 2018, I took up my current position at ANU’s Department of Political and Social Change. Building on my archival research and drawing on in-depth interviews with Cambodian politicians and human rights activists, I aim to provide a portrayal of Cambodia’s political transformation that emphasizes the discursive and affective dimensions of political change. How do Cambodian political actors and activists create meaningful spaces for engagement by challenging both a coercive government and the liberal-universalist assumptions that have defined perceptions of Cambodia’s political trajectory since 1991?

In 2019, I became a member of the editorial team of the Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding.

Researcher's projects

Emphasizing the discursive dimension of political change, my research traces the transformation of Cambodia’s political system since the 1992-93 UN Transitional Authority (UNTAC). A particular focus lies on the transnational sphere as a public arena that shapes the identities, ideas, and interests of Cambodia’s political actors. Drawing on archival materials, interviews, and field research, I explore the sources of legitimacy that Cambodian actors mobilize to shape their policies and build authority vis-à-vis their international and local audiences.

Past research projects include the DFG (German Research Foundation) funded project “The Institutionalization of Interpretative Authority in Post-Conflict Societies. An Analysis of the Transitional Authority in Kosovo and Cambodia.” My current work centers on the affective dimension of political communication and the ways in which Cambodian politicians and political activists inside and outside of Cambodia engage with the practice and rhetoric of the ‘international community’.

In 2019, I was awarded the Asia Pacific Innovation Program (APIP) Research Excellence Grant by the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific (CAP) for the project: “Where in the world is Cambodia? Diaspora politics and democratization.” The project aims to map current transnational networks of cooperation. It assesses how the events preceding and following the 2018 parliamentarian election have shaped prominent views of what constitutes effective and legitimate democratization strategies.


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Updated:  10 April 2020 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers