Guest Editors' Introduction: How Is Neoliberalism Good to Think Vietnam? How Is Vietnam Good to Think Neoliberalism?
Christina Schwenkel and Ann Marie Leshkowich
The recent global economic crisis has called into question triumphalist narratives of neoliberal capitalism and its global uniformity. In this introduction to the special issue on Vietnam, we examine Vietnamese “market socialism” as a fertile site for considering how transnational neoliberalism and state socialism have intersected to shape knowledge, governmentality, and everyday cultural practices. We ask, how does the endurance of socialist interpretive frameworks and logics of morality contest or rework neoliberalism and its global modes of regulation? Conversely, how might socialist continuities work in conjunction with neoliberalism to affirm its basic tenets? We argue for an understanding of transnational neoliberalism as a globally diverse set of technical practices, institutions, modes of power, and governing strategies informed by cultural and historical particularities. We caution against addressing “neoliberalism” as a uniform project that signifies the retreat of government or the triumph of a global market economy that fetishizes the “free”; instead we call for more attention to the ways in which socialism is deeply, though unevenly, woven into particular cultural forms, political practices, and historical legacies to ask, What if anything is unique about “neoliberalism” in socialist Vietnam, and to what extent is neoliberalism a useful lens for thinking through contemporary socioeconomic change in Vietnam?
Neo-Geomancy and Real Estate Fever in Postreform Vietnam
This article situates localized Vietnamese practices of geomancy within the broader history of land-use right reforms in the postreform era. On the immediate level, geomancy appears to represent individualized attempts to reconstruct private homes and cultivate personal landscapes—a seemingly bottom-up phenomenon. Situating these seemingly individualized practices within the larger social, political, legal, and economic landscape, however, shows that they cannot be decoupled from top-down processes driving the privatization of property relations. Combining thick description with a critical study of the structures impinging on Vietnamese real estate markets shows that seemingly bottom-up challenges to the state are in fact linked to much more top-down dynamics. The case of geomancy shows that analysis of individual actions must always pay attention to the way such actions are often linked to pathways of power that flow up, down, and sideways. While Vietnamese market-oriented socialism is not always described as neoliberal, this article shows that the anthropological critique of neoliberalism offers an important model and method for understanding the situated context of geomancy within the larger transformations gripping Vietnam today.
Civilizing the City: Socialist Ruins and Urban Renewal in Central Vietnam
The shift to “market socialism” has brought rapid and profound changes to urban landscapes in Vietnam. Focusing on the fate of socialist architecture and urban design under contemporary urban redevelopment and renewal plans, this essay explores the transformation of Vinh City, capital of the province of Nghệ An, from a center of socialist utopian modernity and postwar urban recovery to a symbol of urban blight and late socialist decay. Destroyed by aerial bombing during the war with the United States, Vinh City was redesigned and rebuilt in the postwar years with East German aid, technology, and urban planning expertise. A primary focus of urban reconstruc