Organized Panel Session
From the pre-colonial period to the present day, projects to discipline individual bodies and to manage populations have been central, constitutive aspects of state power and social norms in Vietnam. During the socialist period in particular, these initiatives had profound ideological and material effects on every aspect of everyday life, from consumption to housing to education. Area studies scholarship has addressed aspects of state-led biopolitical projects -- for example, the socialist state’s historic and contemporary efforts to shape and manage medical practices and institutions (Wahlberg 2006), to influence reproductive decision-making and family life (Gammeltoft 1999, 2014), to manage poverty (Chaudry 2016), and to interpellate the population as masses (Ninh 2002). This scholarship offers intriguing clues about how biopower has functioned in Vietnamese history and society. However, a comprehensive account of Vietnamese state biopolitics in any historic period has yet to be written.
Together the panel’s four papers - on the harms of drug addiction; state-guided efforts at poverty management; debates over the repatriation of dead bodies; and disease control strategies - address the development of a distinct Vietnamese biopolitics from different disciplinary and historical perspectives. In particular, this panel asks: How would perspectives on Vietnamese history and society shift if we were to reorganize our thinking to place biopolitics at the center of critical analysis? How can debates around biopower - which largely remain Eurocentric - be broadened by an engagement with Vietnam? How can the concept of biopolitics itself be shifted and expanded by insights from Vietnamese history?