The dissertation discusses the Vietnamese discourse on environment and nature and its changes through imperialism from the kingdom of Văn Lang until today. It argues that the indigenous understanding in Vietnam was shaped by a two dimensional relation between humans and nature and environment.
Firstly, environment was seen as something to be used in order to produce food and a living and therefore had a material relevance. Secondly, nature was seen as something holy, possessed by spirits who were worshipped and fulfilled spiritual needs. This twofold understanding, which is a continuum rather than two separated concepts, lost its balance through imperialist influences and the materialistic notion of environment was strengthened.
The first influence, Chinese Confucianism, brought with it a more profound separation between humans and their environment. This influence, however, was not as strong for the subalterns (following the tradition of Gramsci and Guha) as for the ruling elite. It was French imperialism and the change of agricultural structures that lay the basis for a deep discourse change from spiritual nature to an environment that had to serve economic ends.
This was picked up and spread among the mass population by the socialist government in independent Vietnam. The process culminates in today’s adaption of the western eco-imperialist discourse that settled the story-lines of environmental realism and neo-liberalism in Vietnamese policies and the environmental movement. Despite losing the balance between nature and environment, parts of both still do exist as one can see in Vietnamese policy papers and online publications by local non-governmental organizations.
The full-length dissertation can be downloaded below.