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Vietnam: One Party State and the Mimicry of the Civil Society

Investigation Series
John Kleinen
Irasec, Bangkok, juillet 2015, 118 p.
ISBN : 978-616-7571-25-6
English Language English text

Are the issues of civil society, “good governance”, and the role of NGOs in Vietnam part of a discursive discourse that is linked to a growing development industry in which development studies and economics dominate? Kleinen questions these issues based upon longitudinal research in Vietnam since the early 1990s. In this study, an effort is made to explain the concrete interactions between authorities of the Vietnamese one-party state and its citizens by introducing an attitude of participants to conceal their real intentions with the intent to disguise their actions in order to obtain benefits for their own. Using the concept of mimicry the author tries to grasp what it means to live in a society where political and economic life is dominated by elite groups and were social change is coming from different directions.

Two case studies are presented here: one in which local stakeholders of home stay tourism achieve their goals to develop an acceptable form of co-habitation with ethnic minorities without questioning the state. Another case study focuses upon the rapid urbanization of the periphery of Hanoi where land grabbing and private economic gains of outsiders are at loggerheads with local experiences and perceptions of state-village relationships. The question remains what it means for Vietnam’s modernization and the prospects of a civil society.


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Chapter 1 - The political system : state-party relations reconsidered

The political system
The government
The party
“The people” : society?

Changing state , party and society relations

Society and culture: civil society?


Chapter 2 - NGOs in Northern Vietnam : between public and private domains

Defining poverty
Pro-poor growth
Defining tourism and community-based tourism
Value chain analysis
Pro-poor tourism strategies in practice: success or failure?


Chapter 3 - Constructing civil society?A tale of two villages

A tale of two villages−Lang To and Lang Lua
Lang To village
Social structure
Land sales
Villagers’ point of view on urbanization
Role of social organizations
Lang Lua village


Chapter 4 - Conclusions

Cyberspace and civil society
An emerging civil society in Vietnam: what are the prospects?




The author

John Kleinen is a retired associate professor in anthropology and history at the University of Amsterdam. He is specialized on Vietnamese studies and visual anthropology. He published a number of books, among these, Facing the Future, Reviving the Past. A study of Social Change in a Northern Vietnamese Village (1999) and Pirates, Ports and Coasts in Asia (2010). Recently he contributed to a special issue of the academic review Moussons on Vietnamese intellectuals (1858-1954).