Writing on contemporary Vietnam: History and space(s) of a Nation-State

Writing on contemporary Vietnam: History and space(s) of a Nation-State

The historical research on Vietnam has for a long time remained imprisoned by the premise: homogeneity of the Vietnamese nation and the continuity of its history. The Vietnamese studies of the 1960s-80s have often aimed more to demonstrate than to understand. Since then, approach to Vietnam becomes complex again. Henceforth it is a question of providing a vision of Vietnam from 1945 going beyond simple contrasts between ‘winners/ communists' and ‘vanquished/ non-communists' from the inside or an analysis of the exterior that is limited by the contours of the 'Indochina war' and 'Vietnam war'.
A look from the inside enables one to grasp the social links and membership relations so much more, as experienced by the internal players (State, groups, individuals) by getting registered into a cultural space. My research on the figure of «new hero» (Heroes and Revolution in Vietnam, L'Harmattan, 2001 prefaced by Yves Chevrier) aims to understand the collective representations that were linked to it, the profile of a new elite and the evolution of these realities in time through the study of principles of the working classes' mobilization phenomenon, widespread with the whole communist block. In the context of Vietnam, building up of a political history suggests an acknowledgment of its spatial articulations. The Vietnamese Nation State is the exact opposite of a spontaneous creation of revolution and even national resistance. The unity of the people, welded by one and (or) by the other, was the result of the construction process and also a myth greatly contributing to this construction. From the initial guerilla warfare in the North to the conquest of the South, until reconstructions bringing about reforms and economic opening-up today, the Vietnamese space does not stop being shaped by politics nor stop shaping politics, understood here in a general way, since the 'revolutionary' war and socialist mutation hazards have to be included. Both empirically and problematically, a work on the territories gains a foothold in the ‘sites': geographical surveys, examination of local archives, surveys with the players of the State and society. The objective is not to produce an inlaid work of local histories. It is a question of analyzing the constitution and transformations of a strongly built national political space based on localized stories, by showing that one of the essential springs of modern state construction, and its long-term articulation, will have been the transformation of a governmentality whose techniques of power operate at the level of territorial articulations. This political construction is placed in its regional environment to compare its morphology to that of neighboring constructions (in China, for example), and studying the real connections: circulation of revolutionary models at the 'heroic' era, economic and identity recombinations of the regional space today. It is indeed a question of contextualizing an approach to Vietnam in order to reexamine the issue of communism and its relations with the Asian society, by emphasizing on setting up territories as geographical, institutional and symbolic spaces, at the same time as local arenas where interactions happen between power, power plan, and social players. The Historian of Vietnam should recognize the obvious: the objective of his research is a building process, whose essential elements are to be looked for outside the national frontiers as much as within. Through the ages, these interactions between «indigenous» and exogenous factors to which players belonging to different historical worlds were linked and smugglers connecting these worlds have defined a national space. Writing on the communist Nation State in a way leads to study the ‘margins' of the political and social construction of the State (RDVN, then the RSVN from 1976), at the same time as the reconstruction of its past through the ages, real cultural and national replica of its internationalist and modernistic ideology.