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Organizer and Chair: Jayne Werner, Long Island University
Discussants: David Marr, Australian National University; Jayne Werner, Long Island University
For the first time in several decades, long-term fieldwork is being carried out in Hanoi and the villages in the Red River delta. Much of this new work focuses on gender and the family. Data are being generated about the nature of the family, the structure and economic basis of the household, conceptions about gender and intergenerational relations, and sexuality. These new studies are providing insights into processes of social and cultural change as they are occurring under the impact of doi moi or economic renovation. Three aspects of recent concern will be explored: changing household structure and work-related mobility, single women and the family, and premarital abortion and sexuality. Methodologies include household surveys, intensive interviews, and long-term residence in the areas studied.
Composition and Recomposition of Rural Households in the Red River Delta
Nelly Krowolski and Nguyen Tung, LASEMA, CNRS-France
Over the course of 19901998 we have worked in several villages in the Red River delta. This paper is primarily based on the rural village of Ta Thanh Oai, located in a peri-urban zone (15 km from Hanoi) and an analysis of the household register held by the commune. The register currently includes more than 800 households. We focus on the structure of the household and the status of its diverse members in terms of their relationship with the head of the household. Our analysis is also based on intensive interviews conducted in the village in 1998, with a focus on around twelve families chosen at random from the register (with equal representation from the communes hamlets). These interviews focused on household members mobility from the standpoint of the issue of migration between the commune and the nearby urban center. Finally, the data from Ta Thanh Oai is analyzed from a comparative perspective with two other villages in the Red River delta where we have worked. The first is Mong Phu (Ha Tay province) at the edge of the "middle" region of the delta where we lived in 1990, 1991, and 1992, and the second is Mo Trach (Hai Duong) in the lower delta (studied in 1997 and 1998).
Never-Married Women in Rural North Vietnam: Two Case Studies
Danièle Bélanger, University of Western Ontario; Khuât Thu Hong, National Center for Social Sciences and Humanities
In Vietnam, as in other Asian countries, recent demographic data suggest that an increasing proportion of women will never marry. Most research on never-married women focuses on urban areas and stresses long-term education, work, and the reluctance to marry "downward" as the factors linked to this increase. This study, based on four months of fieldwork in 1998, addresses the issue of female singlehood in two rural villages located 15 kilometers from Hanoi (Ninh Hiep and Lien Mac). An ethnographic approach was used to explore the lives of 25 never-married women between the ages of 30 and 60. We interviewed these women and their parents, as well as key informants in the community such as the elderly and local leaders, about the status and role of never-married women. Most single women live with their natal families and many of them become caregivers for children and the elderly. Those who become independent have the financial resources to do so only when their parents are no longer alive. Results show that the community attributes the increase in singlehood to changes in the family, namely the decline of polygamy and arranged marriage. The marriage squeeze caused by the deficit of males following the American war has also contributed to the increase in singlehood in Vietnam.
Virginity and the Irony of Cultural Change: Exploring Female Sexuality in Urban Northern Vietnam
Tine Gammeltoft, University of Copenhagen
Whereas family and gender studies in Vietnam often tend to reify and essentialize cultural categories such as woman or the family, this paper aims to understand the social and cultural processes through which such categories are made. Due to its turbulent history and complex cultural dynamics, Vietnam seems a particularly privileged place for the study of such processes.
In Vietnam today, urban youth as a social group are particularly exposed to cultural and social change. Living in rapidly-changing urban environments while also undergoing the transformative personal changes involved in initiations into adulthood, young women and men are struggling with the exigencies of life, striving to find their own place and orientation in the world. Based on a four-month anthropological study of premarital abortion and sexuality conducted in Hanoi in the spring of 1998, the paper examines perceptions of virginity and experiences of virginity loss among Hanoian youth. The paper pursues two different arguments. First, it argues that the cultural tensions, with which the issue of virginity is fraught, index competing and contradictory perceptions of womanhood in Vietnamese history and culture. Second, it argues that young women today are both the agents and the victims of current cultural transformations as their bodies become a terrain where cultural conflicts are played out.