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Philosophische Fakultät - Jahrgang 2015


Titel State–Society Interaction in Vietnam
The Everyday Dialogue of Local Irrigation Management in the Mekong Delta
Autor Huynh Thi Phuong Linh
Publikationsform Dissertation
Abstract This anthropological research on field drainage and canal dredging in Vietnam aims to understand local arrangements for irrigation practices and how they are shaped and negotiated by stakeholders. As well, a research aim is to redefine the Vietnamese state’s position in the interactions and negotiations concerning these arrangements at the local level. Empirical data are subjected to abductive analysis and conceptualised within the institution process and the three dimensions of state power. In this ethnographic case study observation, semi-structured interviews, and random, purposive sampling are employed, while the data are reduced and analysed by open, axial and selective coding.
The Mekong Delta presents a diverse landscape divided into 6 zones which differ from each other and have internally diverse natural conditions, infrastructure and agricultural patterns. Differences also appear among areas in the same zone, contributing to the great diversity of the Delta. A review of hydraulic interventions over different periods demonstrates that the complex history of human migration, colonisation and nation building in the Mekong Delta over 2,000 years has been a work in progress, with new developments built on top of older ones and continuity maintained as past investments and innovations remain fully or partly visible in the landscape. I argue that the transformation of agriculture and rural livelihoods in the Delta has been a process in which practices, rules and norms have been formed, negotiated and adapted through the interactions of interventions, natural conditions (i.e. water, rain, flood), the existing infrastructure (i.e. canal networks, pumps, dredges) and social arrangements (i.e. the open society of the South). Thus, the history of the making of the Delta’s water landscape is an institutional process that connects past and present, old and new, traditional or existing and imported arrangements.
In the contemporary Mekong Delta, the local governance of agriculture and irrigation management is the joint work of state agencies, with their de-concentrated and decentralised structure, and other stakeholders, including semi-state agencies, farmer organisations and farmers. Complex interdependence and inter-influence exist amongst the stakeholders and, under natural, physical and socio-economic changes, drive the evolution of state management and the characteristics of other actors over time. While the decentralised state structure combined with local centralisation illustrates the persistent structural barriers to sharing power and benefits, the interaction between the state and various actors creates local dynamics which can both pose difficulties to state control and complement the inconsistent, uncertain state structure, as illustrated in budget management for canal dredging. The involvement of local movers is simply part of the Vietnamese structure and the negotiation and co-adaptation processes through which institutions and arrangements are introduced, evaluated and legitimated. Local involvement does not necessarily indicate weakness in the state’s command-and-control management, nor does it prove local success in leveraging political power through resistance.
Empirical accounts of field drainage and canal dredging at the commune and hamlet levels support the following arguments:
- Although the Vietnamese hierarchical structure imitates that of a so-called authoritarian regime, the dense structure of agencies from the central level to the hamlet level that employs a top-down system of policy and mandates is not necessarily inflexible. Rather, based on empirical evidences from the cases of field drainage and canal dredging, this research illustrates the full, complex picture of the relations or interaction and negotiation between the government and other actors in the Mekong Delta in which a hierarchical state management structure and the space of local flexibility co-exist. Today, the state, in finding and maintaining a balance between its retreat from certain responsibilities and its need to be present and gain legitimacy, decides the threshold at which it no longer tolerates local deviation.
- This research moves beyond the local negotiation of institutions and the bargaining of individual decision-making behaviour to argue that irrigation management at the local level is guided by the co-evolution or mutual learning between state and local actors, including local cadres. From this process of interaction, local governance officially and unofficially refines and decides the current practices of local irrigation management. While exploring the classic state–society theme, I approach the state as part of society. Building on the concept of the of state–in–society and the blurred boundaries between formal and informal in Vietnam, as contended by such scholars as Kerkvliet (2001), Gainsborough (2010), Reis (2010), Heinrich Böll Foundation (2005), and Hicks (2005), this research on the interaction between the state and local actors at the bureaucratic–informal interface reveals the nature of the everyday dialogue from which institutions are negotiated in the process of forming bricolage. The negotiation process is guided by the bargaining of individual behaviour.
- Within this dialogue, the state is not the primary driver but is a strong party in bargaining favourable institutional conditions. Considering the present state’s success in penetrating social processes, both consciously and unconsciously, through the application of infrastructure and discursive power (legislation and mobilisation), the local irrigation case of the Mekong Delta demonstrates the nature of local responses, or the so-called local resistances, which are far from either rebellion or silent fence-breaking. In the competitive negotiation to make one’s own regulations and targets accepted by others, the state and other actors have evolved into a learning process, as illustrated in their overlapping interests and agreement on flexibility and deviation in certain places. That process of learning or negotiation has shaped the institutional bricolage from the various rules and norms that are valued and accepted differently by the state, local state cadres, semi-state actors and farmers.
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© Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Bonn | Veröffentlicht: 09.09.2015