Anthony Heathcote : Remember Forever – Relationships With the Living and the Dead in a Vietnamese Online Memorial Site [2015]

[ndlr] Résumé de la thèse de Anthony Heathcote (University of Adelaide, School of Social Sciences, 2015) sur un sujet inédit et passionnant : la mémorialisation en ligne dans le Viêt-Nam contemporain à travers l’étude des interactions des internautes sur un forum dédié aux personnes décédées. Cette recherche ethnographique « se déplace à travers le temps, l’espace et les mondes virtuels pour examiner la relation entre les nouvelles technologies des médias et des pratiques commémoratives qui sont souvent culturellement et politiquement controversées » (Christina Schwenkel, VSG).

This thesis is concerned with online memorialisation in contemporary Vietnam. It argues that the experiences of Vietnamese who participate in the online memorial site Nghĩa Trang Online highlight the continuities as well as tensions which exist between online, offline and other world (the world of the dead) communications. At its starting point, this thesis situates Vietnamese online interactions within the cultural practice of ancestor worship in Vietnam, which is the dominant relationship Vietnamese have with the dead. It demonstrates that online interactions with the dead which may seem new and untraditional are profoundly embedded in ancestor worship, and that the practice of ancestor worship itself is one which has transformed, through political, technological, economic and cultural changes.

These examinations also feed into wider socio-political issues in Vietnam, including the online memorialisation of fetuses after an abortion, and the remembering of revolutionary martyrs (liệt sĩ) killed during the American/Vietnam War in contrast to the forgetting of soldiers in the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam/South Vietnamese Army). This thesis also argues that Nghĩa Trang Online engenders a community where Vietnamese can express their emotions relating to loss, continue a relationship with the deceased through comments and online offerings, and give and receive support with fellow members. Such emotional expression is often disenfranchised in Vietnamese society and so online memorialisation becomes a new vehicle for the enfranchisement of grief.

This thesis is based on twelve months’ fieldwork between 2012-2013 in Vietnam within the major cities of Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Da Nang, through online and offline participant observation in the country’s largest online memorial, Nghĩa Trang Online (Cemetery Online). The site is also known as Nhớ Mãi (Remember Forever). Originating in 2008, the website currently has around 60,000 members who use the memorial to create online tombs for the dead, ‘light’ candles and ‘burn’ incense, create online offerings, and remember and communicate with the living and the dead. A number of members also meet in person and participate in death days, cemetery visits, birthdays, weddings, charity events and other social gatherings.

The Internet is burgeoning with spaces dedicated to remembering the dead through social networking sites, blogs, museums, archives, cemeteries and memorials. While there is an expanding body of research contributing to this field, the interactions between the online, offline and the other world in contemporary Vietnam have not been anthropologically researched. This work aims to fill this gap, focusing on the extraordinarily diverse intersection of remembrance, continuing relationships, community, emotion and online memorialisation in contemporary Vietnam.

Mots clés : Nghĩa Trang Online / Nhomai.vn / Anthropology / Ancestor Worship / Death / Ethnography / Vietnam / Online Memorial / Community / Continuing Bonds / Grief / Emotion / Forgetting / Abortion / Revolutionary Martyrs / ARVN / Reflexivity

Source : VSG et Adelaide Research & Scholarship

Image « à la une » : illustration de la page d’accès du site mémoriel Nho Mai © DR