Accepted paper:

Performing revolutionary solidarity in the absence of revolution: international conferences as institutionalized ritual in Vietnam


Oscar Salemink (University of Copenhagen)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper I discuss the ritualization of a series of international conferences in Vietnam, arguing that in the context of market reforms and the absence of revolution ritualization in terms of socialist brotherhood allowed academic leaders to perform revolutionary solidarity.

Paper long abstract:

In 1986 the Communist Party of Vietnam adopted capitalist reforms known as Đổi Mới in order to revive its moribund economy which had succumbed to revolutionary fervor after successful wars against France, the U.S. and China. With the demise of the Iron Curtain and the Soviet Union, Vietnam's communist allies fell away, necessitating accelerated market reforms and new alliances through rapid integration into regional (ASEAN) and international (UN, WB, WTO) organizations. The reforms were partly driven by enhanced international exposure. One common form of international exposure were the ubiquitous training and research workshops and conferences taking place in Hanoi and - to a lesser extent - HCM City. Workshops were a favorite method for foreign donor organizations to try and influence domestic policies through what they called 'capacity building'. For Vietnamese institutions - especially academic institutions - workshops constituted welcome monetary injections, both for the institutions and for individual participants who received envelopes with cash for their participation. In this paper I will analyze a series of major, prestigious conferences known as the International Conferences on Vietnamese Studies (1998, 2004, 2008, 2012), jointly organized by the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences and the Vietnam National University (Hanoi), as ritualized events. I will show how the first ICVNS constituted an attempt to connect up with the world of Western scholarship on Vietnam. In subsequent conferences particular ingredients were ritualized, assuming the familiar ritual forms of the celebration of socialist brotherhood, and allowing academic leaders to perform revolutionary solidarity in the absence of revolution.

panel IP08
The institutionalization of revolutionary movements: ethnographic case studies