Social Support and Kinship in China and Vietnam
Both local networks of social support and government policies of social security represent efforts to increase certainty. Against the background of such practices of anticipating different futures, we focus on indigenous notions of uncertainty, fortune, luck and fate. These will be explored in the different ways in which people hedge their bets and attempt to bridle the forces of luck, such as reciprocity between generations, ritual exchange networks, divination and geomancy. We are also interested in the new uncertainties which come with the introduction of market economies, and the ways people confront them through work or through risk-taking. Researching educational aspirations, labour migration, popular forms of gambling, and local entrepreneurship, we shall be examining underlying concepts of fate, luck and fortune and how these notions are changing.
Modes of Relatedness
While family and kin remain of crucial importance in China and Vietnam, various other forms of relatedness are also important for social support. These include relations between neighbours, friends, teachers and students, masters and apprentices, etc..
In particular we are interested in the practices which create (or deny) relatedness, such as hospitality and ritual. Through these practices, strangers (including ghosts and spirits) can become guests and affines, or be expelled from a community. Our research projects study different local modes of relatedness and aim at focused comparisons.
Moral Exemplars of Care and Protection
While in the pre-revolutionary past, governance often remained at the level of moral exemplars, and state officials only rarely directly interfered in local affairs, under socialism, the Chinese and Vietnamese nation-states extended their politics very concretely into the ordinary lives of even the remotest communities. The moral exemplars of socialism (Mao, Ho Chi Minh, the ‘good official’, the model worker etc) became an essential part of popular culture, and they continue to be invoked today. As models of care and protection they are now deified and commercialized, and they stand in competition with numerous other exemplary models and sources of authority. Within this field, we want to compare different models of protecting, caring, and social support.
The Politics of Population Quality
Both in China and Vietnam, the prevalent narratives of modernity and progress have shifted from class struggle and socialist utopia to ‘population quality’, entrepreneurship, and economic growth. The continuous adjustment to what is seen as economic necessity has become the core principle of social policy; economic necessities are measured and justified by statistical means. Yet what ‘progress’, ‘modernization’, and ‘population quality’ mean in concrete situations is always contested. The politics of population quality and progress includes these new discourses, but also very concrete practices of sanitation, hygiene, standardization, quality control, development and poverty alleviation programmes. In our respective research projects, we focus on the ways these official terms and state policies are implemented, translated, appropriated and negotiated locally.