The Effect of Government Repression on Civil Society: Evidence from Cambodia

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Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are a core component of a robust civil society and operate in a wide variety of sectors, ranging from service delivery to political advocacy. However, research has yet to systematically investigate whether the impact of government repression varies across NGO activities. We hypothesize that advocacy NGOs are more affected by repression than those in service delivery. Surveying 176 employees from 106 NGOs in Cambodia, we employ a conjoint experiment to examine how the level of repression affects a task crucial to NGOs' survival: obtaining funding via grant applications. We find that while increases in the severity of repression appear to have a stronger deterrent effect for advocacy NGOs, repression has a large deterrent effect on service NGOs as well. Interviews and text analysis of open-ended questions suggest that local officials target both advocacy and service delivery NGOs, but for different reasons. Our findings speak to the spread of authoritarianism and the challenges NGOs face in countries with closing civic spaces.






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Springman, J, E Malesky, L Right and E Wibbels (2022). The Effect of Government Repression on Civil Society: Evidence from Cambodia. International Studies Quarterly, 66(3). 10.1093/isq/sqac028 Retrieved from

This is constructed from limited available data and may be imprecise. To cite this article, please review & use the official citation provided by the journal.



Edmund Malesky

Professor of Political Science

Malesky is a specialist on Southeast Asia, particularly Vietnam. Currently, Malesky's research agenda is very much at the intersection of Comparative and International Political Economy, falling into three major categories: 1) Authoritarian political institutions and their consequences; 2) The political influence of foreign direct investment and multinational corporations; and 3) Political institutions, private business development, and formalization.

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