Vol. 13, No. 1, Liam C. Kelley et al.


Contents>> Vol. 13, No. 1


Collective Care in Three Vietnamese Contexts: The Intersection of Health, Community, and the State


Liam C. Kelley,* Catherine Earl,** and Jamie Gillen***

*Institute of Asian Studies, Universiti Brunei Darussalam, Tunku Link, Gadong, BE1410, Brunei Darussalam
Corresponding author’s e-mail: liam.kelley[at]ubd.edu.bn
**School of Communication and Design, RMIT Vietnam, 702 Nguyen Van Linh Boulevard, Tan Phong Ward, District 7, Ho Chi Minh City 700000, Vietnam
e-mail: catherine.earl[at]rmit.edu.vn
***Global Studies, University of Auckland, 34 Princes Street, Auckland CBD, Auckland 1010, New Zealand
e-mail: jamie.gillen[at]auckland.ac.nz

DOI: 10.20495/seas.13.1_3

Following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Vietnam was initially featured in the world news media as a triumphant success story in its fight against the coronavirus. Scholars drew attention to the public health policies and practices of the government (Le 2021; Quang et al. 2022) and a society whose collective sense of self-worth was derived from entrenched practices of looking out for one another (Su et al. 2021). This special focus uses the pandemic as a launching point to investigate the idea of collective care in contemporary Vietnamese society. It does so by looking at the contexts of three different communities: the Vietnamese nation as a whole, a Vietnamese diasporic community in Germany, and an ethnic minority group in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

With the remarkable economic growth experienced in Vietnam since market reforms were introduced in 1986 (Đổi Mới), many scholars have focused on the incredible transformations that economic growth has engendered, such as the rise of a middle class (Earl 2014) and the emergence of new forms of urban living (Harms 2011; 2016) and gendered consumption (Hoang 2015). More recently, individualized dimensions of affective care have begun to make an impact on critical Vietnamese studies. Anthropologists such as Merav Shohet (2021) and Allen Tran (2018) have shown how Vietnam’s intensifying middle class have transformed notions of love, care, and emotion in neoliberalizing Vietnam. This special focus builds on the emerging interest in collective approaches to care, an issue that the pandemic also brought to light.

Max Müller et al.’s paper, “Vietnamese Carescapes in the Making: Looking at Covid-19 Care Responses in Berlin through the Affective Lens of Face Masks”—about how overseas Vietnamese hand-sewed masks for their compatriots as well as threatened Berliners—demonstrates how Vietnamese collective care has a transnational quality indicative of how responses to the pandemic (like the pandemic itself) do not respect national boundaries. Mirjam Le and Franziska Susana Nicolaisen then write in their paper, “Narrative and Framing of a Pandemic: Public Health Communication in the Vietnamese Public Sphere,” about the Vietnamese state’s methods and language driving “crisis communication” during the pandemic. Propaganda messaging brought together Vietnamese people along collective care lines but also divided them as the government’s approach to the Omicron outbreak unraveled and social inequities came to the fore. Finally, Kang Yanggu takes us beyond the pandemic to look at collective care among the ethnic Raglai, in “Appropriating State Techniques for Effective Rituals: Funerals of the Raglai in Contemporary Vietnam.”

While these three papers are diverse in their coverage, they demonstrate at the granular level the complex ways in which the state informs and influences people’s ideas and actions on how to care for their collective communities. Whereas Le and Nicolaisen focus on the intent of the state itself, Müller et al. and Kang show us that even in communities that exist beyond the direct or firm reach of the state, approaches to collective care still reflect or engage with state concepts—be that the proper way to perform rituals, as in the case of Kang’s paper, or the sense of gratitude that one owes one’s home country, as in the case of the work of Müller et al.

In conclusion, all these papers illustrate the complex ways in which “Vietnamese communities,” in the broadest sense of that term—from communities of ethnic Vietnamese in Vietnam or in the diaspora to non-Vietnamese ethnic groups in Vietnam—navigate through a world of state policies and economic inequities to find ways to care for those most in need.

The three papers in this special focus were originally presented at the conference on “Engaging With Vietnam: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue.” This is an annual multidisciplinary conference focusing on “Vietnam” as both a place and a concept, for scholars working in the social sciences, arts, and humanities. Now in its 14th year, the conference has traditionally attracted upcoming and early-career scholars. The papers in this special focus are representative of the type of work that gets presented at this conference, and they are also representative of some of the topics that young scholars are researching these days.

Accepted: September 15, 2023


Earl, Catherine. 2014. Vietnam’s New Middle Classes: Gender, Career, City. Copenhagen: NIAS Press.

Harms, Erik. 2016. Luxury and Rubble: Civility and Dispossession in the New Saigon. Berkeley: University of California Press. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1kc6jz5.

―. 2011. Saigon’s Edge: On the Margins of Ho Chi Minh City. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttthqx.

Hoang, Kimberly Kay. 2015. Dealing in Desire: Asian Ascendancy, Western Decline, and the Hidden Currencies of Global Sex Work. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Le Van Tan. 2021. COVID-19 Control in Vietnam. Nature Immunology 22(261). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41590-021-00882-9.

Quang Tuyen D.; Tran Thi C.; Tran Vu H.; Nguyen Thao T.; and Nguyen Thu T. 2022. Is Vietnam Ready to Welcome Tourists Back? Assessing COVID-19’s Economic Impact and the Vietnamese Tourism Industry’s Response to the Pandemic. Current Issues in Tourism 25(1): 115–133. https://doi.org/10.1080/13683500.2020.1860916.

Shohet, Merav. 2021. Silence and Sacrifice: Family Stories of Care and the Limits of Love in Vietnam. Berkeley: University of California Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv1h1vbvn.

Su Diep Ngoc; Tra Diep Luc; Huynh Hanh My Thi; Nguyen Hai Hong Thi; and O’Mahony, Barry. 2021. Enhancing Resilience in the Covid-19 Crisis: Lessons from Human Resource Management Practices in Vietnam. Current Issues in Tourism 24(22): 3189–3205. https://doi.org/10.1080/13683500.2020.1863930.

Tran, Allen. 2018. The Anxiety of Romantic Love in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 24(3): 512–531. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9655.12858.