This commentary considers proceedings from the workshop, “Can the Case be Made for Asian Democratic Theory or Practice?: Local Asian Perspectives,” held in Hanoi in February 2015. Particular attention is paid to the presentations of the two presiding professors, Pham Quang Minh and John Keane, both of whom argued that the Asian democracies of the twenty-first century would and should depart from the Western liberal democratic models of the late twentieth century. They also assuaged some of the visceral sentiments and tensions between the author (a boatperson who fled the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1979) and the local workshop participants (who were avid Vietnamese socialists).
Comprehending Subjectivity in Vietnam and Beyond
Tine M. Gammeltoft
In this article I explore how a ‘belonging’ perspective can contribute to anthropological reflections on subjectivity and agency. On the basis of two ethnographic cases from Vietnam, I show how people tend to find their bearings in existentially difficult situations by placing themselves within concrete communities of others. Distinguishing between intersubjective, territorial, and political forms of belonging, I discuss anthropological approaches to belonging practices, highlighting the shared analytical assumptions that have underpinned anthropological use of the concept. By placing mutuality and responsiveness at the center of attention, I show that a belonging perspective can help us to think more carefully about the complex ways in which freedom and constraint intertwine in human lives.
Cyclist Appropriations of Automobile Infrastructures in Vietnam
After declining in status and mode share sharply with the popularization of the motorcycle, cycling in Vietnam is on the rise. Urban elites who pursue sport and leisure cycling are the most visible of Vietnam’s new cyclists, and they bring their sense of social mastery out onto the road with them by appropriating the nation’s new, automobile-focused infrastructures as places for play and display. While motivated by self-interest, their informal activism around securing bicycle access to new bridges and highways potentially benefits all and contributes to making livable cities. These socially elite cyclists transcend the status associated with their means of mobility as they enact their mastery over automobile infrastructures meant to usher in a new Vietnamese automobility.
The Moral Cartography of Renovation in Late-Socialist Vietnam
Building on fieldwork in Hanoi, this article uses the idea of moral cartography to explore the ethical significance attached to the expertise of mapmakers, geomancers and psychic grave-finders, fields widely esteemed in Vietnam as scientific disciplines with strong moral entailments. Of central concern are the ways such practices reflect the intertwining of the temporal and the geophysical. The material expressions of these engagements include article death goods and the photographs displayed on ancestor altars; also maps as points where histories of nationhood and family interpenetrate in forms both exalting and painful for those involved. In connecting the different markers and chronologies of Vietnam's official and familial time modes with the notion of a moralized marketplace, it is suggested that the ethical concerns of today's market socialism are being negotiated in Hanoi not only in temporal terms, but through evocations of purposefully achieving life in space.
Markus Schlecker and Kirsten W. Endres
During the Vietnam War, unprecedented numbers of dead soldiers were buried in unmarked graves and remain missing today. Starting in the mid-1990s, the services of psychics came into high demand, prompting the establishment of a state-approved Center for Research into Human Capabilities that continues to offer grave-finding assistance for the general public. This article discusses the cases of two well-known female psychics. As the case studies demonstrate, such research programs have established a niche for psychics on the perimeters of the official discursive nexus of truth, science, and visuality. They also highlight the variability of social and semantic proc esses by which different psychics are positioned in relation to recognized distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate knowledge practices and truth claims.
Nguyen Van Suu
Đô'i Mó'i, the name given to the economic reforms initiated in 1986 in Vietnam, has renewed the party-state's ambitious scheme of industrialization and has intensified the process of urbanization in Vietnam. A large area of land has been converted for these purposes, with various effects on both the state and society. This article sheds light on how land conversion has resulted in farmers' resistance and in what way and to what extent it has transformed their livelihoods in the transitional context of contemporary Vietnam. The article argues that agricultural land use rights remain an important asset for Vietnamese farmers, containing great value and meaning for them besides forming a means of prod
Indochina played a pioneering role during the decolonization of the French empire, and the religious issue proved important to the process. Even to this day, state-church relations bear signs of this contentious and painful past. The historiography of the Indochina War, as well as that of the Vietnam War, clearly call attention to the activism of religious leaders and religious communities, especially Buddhists and Catholics, who fought for independence, peace, and the needs and rights of the Third World. And religion was put to the service of shaping public opinion both in Vietnam and internationally. Naturally, ideological convictions during the era of decolonialization account for the dominance of political analysis of this subject. But with the passage of time we can now develop a more sociological understanding of people's religious motivations and practices and the role they played in the conflict between communism and nationalism. The historian can also re-examine the secularization process in decolonized societies by analyzing, on the one hand, the supposed loss of ascendancy of religions in society and, on the other hand, the appearance of new religious movements that tended to adapt to modernity. This essay explores these politico-religious dynamics in the context of the decolonization of Vietnam.
The French Left, de Gaulle, and the Vietnam War in 1965
Bethany S. Keenan
This article examines conflicts concerning French policy on the American phase of the Vietnam War between the French Left and Charles de Gaulle during the 1965 elections. The Left faced a dilemma on a matter of central foreign policy as it found it difficult to differentiate its position on the war from de Gaulle's public statements on it. Through an evaluation of press commentary, I demonstrate that in its attempt to set itself apart from de Gaulle, the French Left challenged not only his interpretation of the war in Vietnam but also his understanding of France and its role in the world, proffering a softer, cooperative conception in opposition to de Gaulle's push for a militant leadership status for France in the international community. The study shows the limits political parties face as part of protest movements, while also situating French debate over the Vietnam War squarely within the ongoing dialogue over French national identity.
Narratives of Journeys in Vietnam
This article focuses on the search for people killed in the war of liberation fought by the Vietnamese against the United States. The author, an anthropologist, worked in a special center in Hanoi dedicated to this type of search. Her aim was to discover the logic guiding the behavior of the families who undertook lengthy journeys at considerable expense to find the bodies of deceased relatives. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, finding the victims of the war became a mass development in Vietnam, abundantly covered and promoted by the local media. All social strata appeared to be involved, with little variation, despite differing levels of education. This detailed study of family journeys is based on numerous witnesses’ accounts.
Khuat Thu Hong
Background: In many ways, Vietnam can be considered a representative case in global development debates. It has been presented as a relative success story in many global development discussions since the country has moved into the middle-income category. Moreover, it statistically met many of the indicators included in the Millennium Development Goals, especially the reduction of poverty and, above all, extreme poverty.