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Authoritarian Expropriation: Land Seizures and Regime Responsiveness under Communist Vietnam

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In the past decades, economic development in Vietnam has been characterized by relentless state land seizures. Villagers have resisted state imposition and fought back with resolve. Faced with mounting social unrest as land dispossession becomes endemic, the Vietnamese communist regime has selectively suppressed, but also systematically addressed social grievances. The Vietnamese communist regime has therefore deployed both repressiveness and responsiveness. Whereas repressiveness denotes the use of force, coercion, or other methods to suppress social claims that are objectionable to authorities, responsiveness refers to actions undertaken by authorities to positively address those claims. Crucially, the Vietnamese regime has demonstrated a particular kind of responsiveness: strongly institutionalized with programmatic reforms that strengthen villagers’ land rights and limit the government’s arbitrary expropriation. Such responsiveness is not conventionally expected of authoritarian regimes like Vietnam. This paradoxical behavior is all the more puzzling when placed in comparative perspective with two other authoritarian regimes in Asia: China and Cambodia. Both regimes, confronted with similar resistance to land expropriation, have relied on reactive, ad-hoc, and marginal reforms. Why are some authoritarian regimes more responsive than others? Why do some authoritarian regimes respond to social demands in a more institutionalized manner while others are more reactive? Drawing on over 16 months of field research, this presentation will show, through the crucible of history, how and why Vietnam has developed a form of institutionalized responsiveness. The presentation argues ultimately that accommodation and constraints rooted in the macro political developments of the Vietnamese Communist Party and state have profoundly shaped the ways in which the Vietnamese communist regime responds to and incorporates societal input.  



Speaker: Dr. Nhu Truong is Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and Public Affairs at Denison University. She concurrently holds fellowships as a Mansfield-Luce Asia Scholars Network Fellow, a Rosenberg Institute Scholar, and a Center For Khmer Studies Senior Research Fellow. Professor Truong’s research is concerned with the repressiveness-responsiveness of autocracies and democracies, social movements, political economy of development, state formation, and political legitimacy in Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia, particularly Vietnam, China, and Cambodia. Her work has appeared in the Journal of East Asian Studies, Problems of Post- Communism, edited books, and policy studies. Her most recent publication includes a forthcoming co-authored article in Democratization, titled “Agrarian Agitations: Transcripts of Resistance and Authoritarian Feedback under Vietnam’s Repressive-Responsive Regime,” and the co-edited volume The Dragon’s Underbelly: Dynamics and Dilemmas of Vietnam’s Economy and Politics (ISEAS, 2022). Previously, Professor Truong was a Postdoctoral Associate with the Council on Southeast Asian Studies at Yale University, a Shorenstein Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University, a Young Southeast Asia Fellow selected by the Southeast Asia Research Group, and a New Faces in China Studies Conference Fellow held at Duke University. She completed an MPA at the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, an MA in Asian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and her PhD in Political Science at McGill University.

Moderator: Dr. Steve Heder, London School of Oriental and African Studies. Dr. Steve Heder has studied, worked in or taught about Southeast Asia and China since the early 1970s. He holds a PhD in Politics and has worked for the United Nations and various human rights organizations. He is currently a Research Associate at the Department of Politics and International Studies at the London School of Oriental and African Studies and a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies Foreign Policy Institute. His particular research interests have included democracy, revolution, genocide and human rights.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the publications and through webinars are solely those of the authors or speakers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Center for Khmer Studies, Inc. The designations employed in the publications and through the webinars, and the presentation of material therein, do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of The Center for Khmer Studies, Inc. as to the matters discussed therein. The responsibility for opinions expressed in the publications and webinars are solely those of the authors or speakers, and the publication does not constitute an endorsement by The Center for Khmer Studies, Inc. of the opinions, views or issues discussed therein.


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