Archives de catégorie : Thèses / PhD

Isabelle Tracol-Huynh: Between Colonial Order and Public Health – Prostitution in Tonkin (1885-1954) [PhD Thesis]

Isabelle Tracol-Huynh:

Between Colonial Order and Public Health – Prostitution in Tonkin


[PhD Thesis]

Groupe de prostituées dans les années 1950. © Archives personnelles de RTV.
Groupe de prostituées dans les années 1950. © Archives personnelles de RTV. 



Between Colonial Order and Public Health: Prostitution in Tonkin (1885-1954)

During French colonization, the world of prostitution in Tonkin evolved as the result of the numerous social and economic changes that were occurring at the time. The increasing mobility of the population led to rapid, significant urbanization: consequently, the city changed in form and in culture. Prostitution hence became increasingly visible. Its expansion was both quantitative and qualitative in the sense that prostitutes were no longer confined within the so-called spaces of “legal” brothels and were no longer perceived as being the only women capable of providing sexual services. In this regard, the world of prostitution  is a critical vantage point which permits a far-reaching study of these global changes as well as a unique vantage point onto the complexity of colonization itself.

This world was a microcosm of  colonial society with its latent notions of racial hierarchy, inherent domination, and intimacy for colonization, and these all represent an intimate yet politically charged encounter. The racial boundaries delineated at the very foundations of the colonial order were therefore blurred and had to be redrawn and sharpened. The regulation of prostitution was one of the means used by authorities to control the interaction between the colonizers and the colonized because it reproduced the racial distinctions of the colonial society.

The second dimension of the administration of prostitution was medical: because of venereal diseases, prostitution was perceived to be a threat to individuals and the nation as a whole. The regulation of prostitution thus was part and parcel of the policing strategies set up by the authorities to insure colonial order and public health. Nonetheless, its application proved to be difficult because prostitution, which was understood as construing both actors and places, resisted the police and medical frameworks that sought to confine them. Authorities’ attempts clashed with the evasive strategies of prostitutes, madams, clients, and others as well.

In light of these issues, this study offers a thorough examination of the official frameworks and the reality of prostitution as it existed in colonial Tonkin.

Keywords: Vietnam; Tonkin; prostitution; colonization; public health; venereal diseases; police; urban culture; social problem; newspapers influence

Richard Owens: Measuring smallholder land investments in Northwest Vietnam: A cross-cultural study of three highland villages… [PhD] – presented by Jean Michaud

[ndlr] Message de Jean Michaud paru initialement sur VSG et reproduit sur Mémoires d’Indochine avec son aimable autorisation.

Richard Owens with Hmong farmers during harvest season for dry rice in Thuan Chau district, Son La Province, Northwest Vietnam.
Richard Owens with Hmong farmers during harvest season for dry rice in Thuan Chau district, Son La Province, Northwest Vietnam.

This to congratulate Richard Owens who has recently defended successfully his PhD dissertation in social anthropology at University of Georgia (USA) titled « Measuring smallholder land investments in Northwest Vietnam: A cross-cultural study of three highland villages in Phỏng Lái commune, Sơn La province. »

His abstract states:

« In this dissertation, I investigate the connection between land tenure and the conservation of natural resources in the northwestern uplands of Vietnam (Son La province) through a focus on the political and economic forces that shape smallholder investment practices. Within a historically-informed context, I analyze and compare smallholder land use decisions among Kinh, Hmong, and Thai groups considering identity, cultural practices, and household economics.  Recently, Vietnam has banned swidden agriculture in favor of the intensification of upland agriculture. To that purpose, it has provided technology, subsidies, and extension services targeted to lowland majority development models.

During the course of this dissertation, I analyze soil conservation activities in three villages (between and within designs) and across the commune at the household level.  Results from investment activities (short-term, long-term and household rate categories) show that smallholders’ long-term investments are significantly smaller in relation to household investments. I contend that there are a number of social, economic, and environmental reasons for why Hmong, Thai and Kinh are not making significant soil conservation investments. State polices aimed at suppressing swidden agriculture have been replaced with intensive upland farming, leading to increased erosion and land degradation. Traditional swidden systems do not require inputs, hence they are not receiving long-term investments. Upland farming is possible through the use of inorganic fertilizers that are necessary for HYV maize production. Examining the failure of the property rights to conserve natural resources this research makes a significant contribution to the theory of property rights This study considers the socio-cultural and economics dynamics of land title and natural resource management. « 

What I would also like to stress about Richard’s work is that he finds that ethnicity matters when locals get to assess economic opportunities and make strategic choices. The Hmông and Thái ways, he finds, are distinct from the Kinh’s and express different views on modernity, identity and aspirations. His research thus dovetails nicely with other recent dissertations based in rural communities of the northern highlands stressing that these non-Kinh societies show creativity and pro-activity in the course of their social and symbolic reproduction, such as (among others) Jennifer Sowerwine (Berkeley 2004), Bent Jørgensen (Göteborg 2006), Tran Hong Hanh (Freie U. Berlin 2006), Christine Bonnin (McGill 2011), Achariya Choowonglert (Chiang Mai 2012), Ho Ngoc Son (ANU 2012), and O’Briain (Sheffield 2012).

Jean Michaud
Département d’Anthropologie / Université Laval (Québec)

Paul Sorrentino’s PhD Thesis presented by Oscar Salemink

© 2011 VTC News
© 2011 VTC News

Dr. Paul Sorrentino had successfully defended his thesis “Áp vong: appliquer l’âme. Rituels non-médiumniques de possession par les morts dans le nord du Vietnam” [translated as “Áp vong: To affix the soul. Non-mediumnic rituals of possession by the dead in the north of Vietnam” by the author himself] at the Sorbonne in Paris, last Friday, November 29th.

Although the thesis has a rather “French” length (496 pp.) I found it a great pleasure to read as it contains wonderful ethnographic descriptions of unusually high quality. For instance, I was blown away by the 60-page ethnographic narrative in the Prélude about a search through possession for the grave of a person called Ông Trượng. The reporting is detailed, lively, precise, and the researcher appears very perceptive of what was said or unsaid, which lexicological register was used; what was done or not done; who looked where or did not look. It was only the first example of compelling ethnography in the thesis that I found highly emotive, having some experience with the importance that many Vietnamese people attach to honoring their dead ancestors or relatives – including those who died in the wars and whose graves are unknown. Sorrentino also dissects and interprets the various meanings of specific words from different registers (everyday Vietnamese, sino-Vietnamese, political vocabulary, Buddhist terms, etc.) in an expert manner.

Áp vong appears to be a relatively recent phenomenon, which might be somewhat comparable to lên đồng [spirit possession linked up with Mother Goddess worship] or gọi hồn [soul calling]. In those two forms of spirit possession, ritual specialists are possessed by deities (lên đồng) or souls of dead people (gọi hồn). There is an abundant literature in various languages (Vietnamese, English, French) about lên đồng, and an emerging literature about gọi hồn (e.g. Heonik Kwon, Mai Lan Gustafsson, Kirsten Endres, Phan Đăng Nhật and myself), but áp vong – a neologism in Vietnamese – has to my knowledge not yet been the object of systematic study. The main difference with the other forms of possession is that with áp vong, the persons to be possessed are not ritual experts themselves (although experts do play a role in guiding the ritual) but relatives or descendants of the dead persons – hence lay people themselves.

The author devotes a chapter to the question how it is possible that this practice emerged and spread so quickly – mostly after 2000 – and offers a detailed picture of the various persons and institutions involved in that process. The possession rituals tend to be only minimally ritualized, and the practice is now being promoted and practiced in “scientific” institutions that claim expertise in extra-sensorial [ngoại cảm] forms of knowing and sensing, and that uses a mix of scientistic and Buddhist discourses. Interestingly, instead of being dismissed as superstition [mê tín dị đoan] some of the institutions enjoy support from the highest echelons of the Party.

Sorrentino uses a constructivist theoretical framework that offers a vocabulary to interpret how the various protagonists (relatives, ritual experts) arrive at a common interpretation of the possession event in situations of utter uncertainty and oftentimes confusion. That (theoretical) framework might evolve further in the future as the practice itself evolves and – perhaps – routinizes and ritualizes. However, the great merit of this thesis is that it offers amazingly insightful – sometimes very intimate – ethnographies of the practice at a stage of formation, and as such it will be of great use to other scholars who may wish to study this phenomenon in the future. The thesis received the highest distinction from the examiners.

I can only hope that Sorrentino’s work will soon become publicly available – not only in French, but also in Vietnamese and English.

Oscar Salemink, Professor in the Anthropology of Asia, 02/12/2013.

Paul Sorrentino : Áp vong / appliquer l’âme. Rituels non-médiumniques de possession par les morts dans le nord du Vietnam [thèse]

2011 VTC News
© 2011 VTC News

Paul Sorrentino, doctorant au Canthel, a soutenu sa thèse intitulée :

« Áp vong : appliquer l’âme. Rituels non-médiumniques de possession par les morts dans le nord du Vietnam », le vendredi 29 novembre à 14h, à la Sorbonne

Jury composé de Richard Pottier (Université Paris Descartes, directeur de la thèse), Bénédicte Brac de la Perrière (CNRS), Oscar Salemink (Université de Copenhague), Anne de Sales (CNRS) et Gilles Tarabout (CNRS).

* * *

Résumé de la thèse :

Dans cette thèse, j’interroge le développement rapide, au Vietnam et dans les années 2000, d’une forme nouvelle de rituel de possession par les morts, appelée áp vong (littéralement : appliquer/apposer l’âme). L’une des particularités de ces séances est que les défunts n’y sont pas incarnés par le spécialiste rituel, qui ne joue qu’un rôle d’encadrement, mais par un client, par l’intermédiaire duquel les autres membres de la famille pourront interroger leurs morts. Après un exposé du contexte d’idées et de pratiques dans lequel ces rituels sont apparus (représentations liées à la personne, conceptions sotériologiques, autres pratiques de possession), je tente de comprendre la place qu’ils prennent dans la société vietnamienne, marquée par une transformation profonde de la relation entre les vivants et les morts liée au traumatisme de la guerre.

Cela m’amène à analyser les aspects politiques de cette innovation rituelle : en effet, la popularisation fulgurante des séances de áp vong a eu pour théâtre des « centres de recherche » créés par des intellectuels vietnamiens se posant en promoteurs de ces pratiques face à un pouvoir central pris entre sa volonté d’éradiquer les « superstitions » et son devoir de prendre en charge la mémoire des victimes de la guerre.

Enfin, pour tenter de comprendre ces rituels, où ceux qui incarnent les morts ne sont ni des médiums, ni des victimes de l’affliction causée par un défunt, et où la possession est constamment en train de se faire et de se défaire (j’accorde une place importante aux séances qui ne « fonctionnent » pas ou mal), j’adopte une approche constructiviste visant à lire la possession autour du possédé plutôt qu’en lui. De là, je propose de considérer la possession comme une épreuve, au sens que la sociologie pragmatique a donné à ce terme : une qualification négociée de la réalité, portant dans ce cas sur l’attribution d’une agentivité (celle d’un défunt) à un corps (celui du possédé).

Source : Canthel EA 4545

Julie Osborn: Women, War, Vietnam: The Mobilization of Female Images, 1954-1978 [PhD diss.]

It is a pleasure to announce that Julie Osborn recently defended her dissertation Women, War, Vietnam: The Mobilization of Female Images, 1954-1978 and received her PhD in History at the University of Washington, Seattle, having worked with Profs. William Rorabaugh, Christoph Giebel, Susan Glenn, and Laurie Sears.
Nữ du kích Việt Cộng
Nữ du kích Việt Cộng 

Women, War, Vietnam: The Mobilization of Female Images, 1954-1978 proceeds with two deeply interwoven goals in mind: mapping the experience of women in the Viet Nam War and evaluating the ways that ideas about women and gender influenced the course of American involvement in Viet Nam.  Julie Osborn argues that between 1954 and 1978, ideas about women and femininity were crucially involved in impelling, sustaining, and later restraining American actions and prerogatives in Viet Nam.  The dissertation evaluates literal images such as photographs, film and television footage as well as images evoked by texts in the form of news reports, magazine articles, and fiction, focusing specifically on images that reveal deeply gendered ways of seeing and representing the conflict for Americans.  Some of the images Julie Osborn analyzes include a French nurse known as the « Angel of Dien Bien Phu, » refugees regrouping to southern Viet Nam in 1954, the de facto « first lady » of the Republic of Viet Nam under Ngo Dinh Diem, Tran Le Xuan, a.k.a. « Madame Nhu, » and female members of the National Liberation Front.  Juxtaposing images of American women, Julie Osborn also focuses on the figure of the housewife protesting American atrocities and the use of napalm in Viet Nam, and images wrought by American women intellectuals that shifted focus away from the military and toward the larger social and psychological impact of the war.

Congratulations on this splendid achievement, Dr. Osborn!
C. Giebel
Source : VSG (with kind authorization of C. Giebel).
Thanh Nữ Cộng Hòa © 1962 Life
Thanh Nữ Cộng Hòa © 1962 Life 


Claire Edington – “Beyond the Asylum: Colonial Psychiatry in French Indochina, 1880-1940” [PhD diss.]

Munch_thescream[ndlr] Annonce sur le Vietnam Studies Group (VSG) de la récente soutenance de thèse de doctorat (PhD) de Claire Edington en Sciences sociomédicales à l’Université de Columbia. Titre de la thèse : « Beyond the Asylum: Colonial Psychiatry in French Indochina, 1880-1940 », une histoire inédite de la société indochinoise vue sous l’angle de la psychiatrie.

Claire’s dissertation, « Beyond the Asylum: Colonial Psychiatry in French Indochina, 1890-1954 [1880-1940], » is the first book length study of the history of psychiatry in Vietnam. It looks beyond the asylum to consider how psychiatry in French Indochina expanded the reach of the late colonial state while working to redefine the relationship between the state and its subjects. The project examines the movements of patients in and out of psychiatric care as a way to better understand how notions of normality and abnormality were produced in negotiations between experts and families and between colonial bureaucrats and colonial subjects. It aims to reorient the colonial history of medicine and public health away from the focus on expert discourses and medical institutions and towards their entanglements with other kinds of colonial projects and indigenous forms of knowledge.

Source : Sociomedical Sciences PhD – Columbia University

Voir la page de l’auteure : Columbia University

Illustration : « Le Cri » d’Edvard Munch.

Tuan Hoang: Ideology in Urban South Vietnam, 1950-1975 [PhD diss.]

[ndlr] Signalement d’une thèse de doctorat d’histoire soutenue le 26 mars 2013 à l’Université Notre-Dame (Indiana, Etats-Unis). Félicitations à Tuan Hoang pour ce travail qui apporte une pierre supplémentaire au renouveau des études sur la République du Viêt-Nam (Sud).


 Cliquez sur l’image pour l’agrandir (source: Manh Hai Photo Gallery)

Hoang, Tuan: Ideology in Urban South Vietnam, 1950-1975

This dissertation addresses the subject of noncommunist political and cultural ideology in urban South Vietnam during 1954-1975. It contributes to the historiography of the Vietnam War, specifically on the long-neglected Republic of Vietnam (RVN) that has received greater attention in the last decade. The basic argument is that the postcolonial ideological vision of most urban South Vietnamese diverged greatly from that of the Vietnamese communist revolutionaries. This vision explains for the puzzling question on why the communist revolutionaries were far more effective in winning the minds and hearts of Vietnamese in countryside than in cities. At the same time, this vision was complicated by the uneasy relationship with the Americans.

The dissertation examines four aspects in particular. First is the construction of anticommunism: Although influenced by Cold War bipolarity, anticommunism in urban South Vietnam was shaped initially and primarily by earlier differences about modernity and post-colonialism. It was intensified through intra-Vietnamese experiences of the First Indochina War.

The second aspect is the promotion of individualism. Instead of the socialist person as advocated by communist revolutionaries, urban South Vietnamese promoted a bourgeois petit vision of the postcolonial person. Much of the sources for this promotion came from the West, especially France and the U.S. But it was left to urban South Vietnamese writers to interpret and promote what this person ought to be.

The third one concerns the development of nationalism. Urban South Vietnam continued to uphold the views of nationalism developed during late colonialism, such as the elevation of national heroes and the essentialization of Vietnamese civilization. Noncommunist South Vietnamese urbanites were influenced by ethnic nationalism, although they also developed the tendency to look towards other newly independent nations for nationalistic inspiration and ideas about their own postcolonial nation.

The last aspect has to do with the relationship with Americans: The views of urban South Vietnamese on the U.S. were generally positive during the early years of the RVN. But there was also wariness that burst into resentment and anti-Americanism after Washington Americanized the war in 1965. The dissertation looks into two very different urban groups in order to extract the variety of sources about anti-Americanism.

Source : University of Notre-Dame

Table of contents :

  • Acknowledgments – iii
  • Introduction Urban South Vietnam in the American Experience and Historiography – p. 1
  • Chapter One: Vietnamese Communism and Anticommunism Until 1954 – p. 48
  • Chapter Two: The Critique of Communism in Urban South Vietnam – p. 99
  • Chapter Three: Individualism in Urban South Vietnam: Background and Context – p. 168
  • Chapter Four: The Promotion of “Learning To Be Human” – p. 222
  • Chapter Five: The Development and Continuity of Nationalism – p. 334
  • Chapter Six: Perceptions of the U.S. Before the Americanization of the War – p. 408
  • Chapter Seven: The Roots and Growth of Anti-Americanism – p. 464
  • Epilogue – p. 515
  • Bibliography – p. 523