The substitution of social support provided by family and kin with social security provided by the nation-state is often understood as a necessary by-product of industrialization, urbanization, and bureaucratization – of ‘Modernization’. The modern nation-states of China and Vietnam have gradually taken over many aspects of social support which had previously been left to families, kinship groups, and local communities. But the state-building efforts under socialism never quite reached the level of a “welfare state” with an encompassing provisioning system of social services. In the last decades, urbanization, labour migration, and economic liberalisation have substantially changed basic socio-economic conditions, and have presented many new challenges for ordinary people. In contemporary post-socialist China and Vietnam, family, kin, and other personalized and local forms of relatedness are still of crucial importance for social support.
In this research group, we examine social support with a special focus on kin relations in various field sites in China and Vietnam. Against approaches which start with modernist presuppositions such as the self-reliance of individuals or the replacement of family and kin support with state social security, we start with locally specific kinds of subjectivity and with local practices and ideas relating to the problem of ensuring one’s and others’ well-being in the present and future.
Building on the insights of previous projects in this research group, we take into account the semantic openness of ‘social support’. Whether a transaction and its consequences are considered support and who is recognized as supporter and supported are open to negotiation and subject to a host of factors. Disentangling different relations of support, we place emphasis on the role of narratives in which support is accounted for. This is of particular importance in relationship to governmental policies, which frequently have un-intended consequences, and sometimes impinge on local notions and practices of non-state support.
The aim of our research is to investigate the ways in which people in China and Vietnam deal with uncertainty and how they mobilize kin or other modes of relatedness for that. Additionally, we explore different models and exemplars of care and protection, and the changing politics of population quality and progress, which interrelate with local social support.
In the next few years we intend to pay particular attention to social support practices within the following four subject areas: uncertainty, modes of relatedness, moral exemplars of care and protection, and the politics of population quality.