Gainsborough's Vietnam is a valuable source of conceptual and empirical information for Vietnam specialists, practitioners of governance reform, and comparative political theorists. Martin Gainsborough insightful analyses show that rapid economic and social change are not incompatible with a resilience of political power and culture. He convincingly argues that scholarly language about "reforms" misses the point, because what is at play is a continuous reworking of existing power structures.
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Email this page. Posted in: Asia , Vietnam No comments. About the Book Vietnam: Rethinking the state offers an exciting and up-to-date look at the politics of this fascinating country as it seeks to make the transition from war-torn economic backwater to a dynamic and modern society. Such a perspective, he warns, overestimates the significance of policy processes vis-a-vis the more 'Machiavellian aspects of politics', such as competitions for power, resources, and patronage.
Making this simple but important point is a contribution in its own right. Beyond the introductory chapter, the book rethinks the state through chapters that address such concerns as Communist Party rule, new state--business interests, corruption, the 'hollowing out' of the state, local politics, rent-seeking, and elite resilience. The reader might be somewhat disappointed to learn that the analysis of Communist Party rule includes no analysis of the Communist Party per se, but instead a freewheeling though at times stimulating survey of the qualities of several discernible or imagined 'classes' that Western social theory says are necessary for development of democracy which, in any case, is an eventuality which Gainsborough does not foresee.
Subsequent chapters on state--business interests and corruption focus mostly on developments in Ho Chi Minh City in the late s, a municipality that is to this day widely regarded at the forefront of 'reformism'. Gainsborough reveals why such a label is so problematic, demonstrating how, as in other regions, the local state apparatus appears to function mainly as a gatekeeper for rent-seeking of various stripes, mostly emanating from within the state. Across several chapters toward the middle of the book, Gainsborough offers insightful analyses of corruption and the 'equitisation' process i.
However, I first need to shed light on this alternative approach to thinking about the state. The notion of the statist bias involves an assertion that all is not as it seems with reference to the state, or the more usual ways it is depicted. That is, the suggestion in post-structuralist writing is that some of how we think about the state — what we think we see — is an illusion.
The key point is that the state is not an entity with a real perimeter, like, say, a table. Rather, it is a conceptual abstraction. The statist bias involves not recognising this and hence viewing the appearance that the state stands apart from society, and intervenes in it, as unquestionably how it is. To take our understanding of the myth of the centralised state in Vietnam to a new level, it is important to understand this perspective and to consider the possibilities it opens up in terms of moving beyond the myth.
This simply reflects where the weight of the author's research on the state has fallen. However, readers who wish to draw on the Marxist and post-Marxist tradition in terms of state theory may wish to see Hay 59—78; and Jessop Post-structuralist ideas about the state do not mean suggesting that the state does not exist.
This would clearly be a mistake.
Vietnam: Rethinking the State - bookpotter
With reference to Vietnam, there is clearly an apparatus of some kind, with party and state bodies stretching from the capital to the village. Post-structuralist writers argue that the ability to have an internal distinction appear as though it is an external boundary between separate objects is central to how rule occurs. It also accounts, at least in part, for the state's longevity as a political form. While Mitchell is one of the most illuminating writers on this subject, other scholars can be seen as rejecting the statist bias as well.
Put like this, it is possible to see how the dialogical approach, with its emphasis on state-society relations, has its limitations that is, the dialogical approach does not problematise these issues at all. Therefore, both neo-patrimonial and developmental approaches to the state can be seen to fall victim to the statist bias, so a more rigorous theorisation of the state is needed if we are to go beyond them.
Bratsis continued:. Bratsis Bratsis illustrated his account with an analysis of political party donations and lobbying rules, noting the entirely arbitrary nature of the cut-offs in relation to what is permissible and what is not. For example, why must a donation to a British political party over GBP 5, be registered in the name of the donor, but not if it is under GBP 5, as detailed in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act ?
For Bratsis, it is all about appearances.
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He wrote:. However, there is a considerable amount riding on the state not being seen as arbitrary, or the impossibility of the public sphere not being revealed.
Similarly, Mitchell argued that the appearance of state and society as separate things is part of the way social, political and economic order is maintained Mitchell Consequently, anything that undermines the idea of the state as a distinct and bounded entity separate from society, or anything that interferes with the idea of the public realm being devoid of private interests, tends to be side-lined.
However, they are critical to understanding the myth of the centralised state, not just in Vietnam but across the world. See Gainsborough However, once the statist bias is understood, it becomes obvious that empirical data on Vietnam, commonly interpreted with reference to a statist approach, fits much more easily with an approach that rejects the statist bias. It is not at all easy to break free of the statist bias.
As we have seen, the state, by its very nature, has colonised our minds. Consequently, it requires persistent intellectual effort and commitment to step outside the old paradigm and to inhabit the new one. However, it can be done. Having done this, I will conclude. In my book on Vietnamese politics, I spoke of a method for studying the state that, paradoxically, involves not focusing attention directly on the state.
Having often studied business as a window onto the state, I argue that this is really to ask how people act politically. Thus, my work contains an unwillingness to take the state as a given. For me, the state is unstable and I cannot be entirely sure what it is. This is very different from the dialogical or state-society approach. While a full discussion of this is beyond the scope of this article, this too sets my approach apart from the mainstream, which focuses heavily on politics as being about policy. See also Malesky and Schuler and Malesky, Schuler, and Tran for a heavy focus on politics as being about policy.
A similar commitment to not taking the state for granted, and hence probing its elusiveness, can be found in Adam Fforde's work. Fforde is best known for his work on the transition from the planned to the market economy. Policy is not unimportant for Fforde but he argues that it is frequently reactive to events rather than determining of them. It would be easy to mistake Fforde's approach as being identical to the dialogical approach, and a number of scholars have invoked him in this way see Kerkvliet 36, and Sikor He questioned the grounds upon which the party-state rules and to what ends, and he finds senior Vietnamese asking similar questions too Fforde b: Again, this puts clear blue water between Fforde and the dialogical approach.
However, 10 years later even this could not be guaranteed. Indeed, echoing my own arguments, Fforde argued that the party-state was increasingly just a vehicle for powerful people to pursue their interests, adding that the Party-state exhibits no clear developmental rationale for its activities, much less follow-through. While those who follow the dialogical approach may say that they know this, there is still a qualitative difference between Fforde's account and theirs.
As Bratsis said, the private cannot be purged from the public. The point is that the state in Vietnam is not doing this very well and that it has become worse since the late s. However, this is work still to be done. I began this article with three questions. First, I asked about the nature of the myth of a centralised Socialist state in Vietnam and how it manifests itself; second, I asked if the myth changes over time; and lastly, I asked why the myth endures.
In light of the findings of this chapter, it is now possible to offer a more comprehensive answer to all three questions. Having done this, I will consider the implications of my findings for contemporary actors, including the international development community. In terms of the nature of the myth and the way in which it manifests itself, I have argued that there is a tendency to reify the state, even in writing which is attentive to localism and the diversity of societal actors at play in Vietnamese political life.
Thus, even the dialogical approach to thinking about politics overstates the power of the state because it takes the state too much for granted and is not sufficiently alert to the way in which, at a certain level, the state is an illusion. It is not that we cannot or should not have debates about state capacity; both Fforde's approach and my own allow for this. On the question of whether the myth changes over time, we can say that the myth itself does not change very much.
What may change a little is how scholars talk about the state.
However, this article has shown how even the dialogical approach, while an improvement on the dominating state approach, still falls victim to the statist bias and is therefore distorting. I have argued that the myth of the central state endures because there are domestic and foreign political interests that depend on it, both for reasons of legitimacy and because of commercial and geo-political interests.
There is a lot riding on the myth. The remaining issue is for us to explore the implications of these findings, both for academics and for practitioners, notably those in the international development community. Starting with the academic community, I have argued that nearly all writing on politics in Vietnam suffers from the statist bias, and this includes the dialogical approach as well as neo-patrimonial and developmental state approaches. Therefore, there is huge scope for scholars to revisit the way in which they write about politics and development and to engage seriously with post-structural ideas about the state.
To date, there has been a notable lacuna in this respect, and it is time we filled it.
Vietnam - Rethinking the State by Martin Gainsborough - 9781848133105
Further refinement of a non-statist approach to thinking about politics is the way forward. For practitioners, including those in the international development community, it would be to their advantage if they could be attentive to non-statist approaches to thinking about politics.
However, there is a lot riding on the statist paradigm being maintained, as I have discussed. Moreover, it is quite difficult for practitioners to operate successfully if they do not fall in line with the arbitrary political representations around which we order our lives. All of us must do this to some extent.
Instead, the issue is more one of how, given the analysis contained in this article, practitioners might approach engaging with the different actors and institutions they encounter in Vietnam. This is clearly a vast subject, which would merit further discussion. However, the following points seem worth bearing in mind. First, there is the issue of institutional particularism.
Moreover, no one in Vietnam — however elevated — ever has it all sewn up; that is, there is always someone who may potentially stand in your way.