The Government of Mistrust: Illegibility and Bureaucratic Power in Socialist Vietnam

Paperback | December 18, 2013

byKen Maclean

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Focusing on the creation and misuse of government documents in Vietnam since the 1920s, The Government of Mistrust reveals how profoundly the dynamics of bureaucracy have affected Vietnamese efforts to build a socialist society. In examining the flurries of paperwork and directives that moved back and forth between high- and low-level officials, Ken MacLean underscores a paradox: in trying to gather accurate information about the realities of life in rural areas, and thus better govern from Hanoi, the Vietnamese central government employed strategies that actually made the state increasingly illegible to itself.
            MacLean exposes a falsified world existing largely on paper. As high-level officials attempted to execute centralized planning via decrees, procedures, questionnaires, and audits, low-level officials and peasants used their own strategies to solve local problems. To obtain hoped-for aid from the central government, locals overstated their needs and underreported the resources they actually possessed. Higher-ups attempted to re-establish centralized control and legibility by creating yet more bureaucratic procedures. Amidst the resulting mistrust and ambiguity, many low-level officials were able to engage in strategic action and tactical maneuvering that have shaped socialism in Vietnam in surprising ways.

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Focusing on the creation and misuse of government documents in Vietnam since the 1920s, The Government of Mistrust reveals how profoundly the dynamics of bureaucracy have affected Vietnamese efforts to build a socialist society. In examining the flurries of paperwork and directives that moved back and forth between high- and low-level ...

Ken MacLean is assistant professor of international development and social change at Clark University, where he is also the director of Asian studies. His scholarship on Vietnam and Burma has appeared in the Journal of Vietnamese Studies and Comparative Studies in Society and History.

other books by Ken Maclean

Format:PaperbackDimensions:300 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.8 inPublished:December 18, 2013Publisher:University Of Wisconsin PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:029929594X

ISBN - 13:9780299295943

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations                            
Preface                                   
Acknowledgments                             
Terminological Note                          
 
Introduction                           
 
Period I. The Pre-centralization of Documentation: Revolutionary Mobilization before Collectivization                          
1 Call-and-Response Dialogues: Struggling to Convert Mistrust into Trust                        
2 Field Reports: Confusing the Exemplary with the Deviant                                   
 
Period II. The Centralization of Documentation: Bureaucratic Professionalism Following Collectivization                                   
Introduction: Conflicting Narratives: The Transition to State Socialism                              
3 Administrative Templates: Standardizing Vagueness                                 
4 Labor Contracts: Muddling Illicit Practices with Licit Ones                                  
5 Performance Audits: Identifying Known Unknowns                                 
 
Period III. The Para-centralization of Documentation: Socialist Marketization after Decollectivization                             
Introduction: Mistaking Fact as Fiction and Fiction as Fact: The Transition out of State Socialism                                   
6 Village Conventions: Misportraying Private Interests as Public Ones                              
 
Conclusion                             
 
Appendixes                            
Notes                         
Bibliography                          
Index

Editorial Reviews

"A highly original book with an unusually innovative methodology. MacLean describes policy and political processes in human terms."—Oscar Salemink, University of Copenhagen