Wenner- Gren’s Institutional Development Grant Awarded to National University of Vietnam – Hanoi

part of a group discussion between doctoral students from the National University of Singapore with students from students from the National University of Vietnam-Hanoi. (Photo Supplied by Professor Van Suu Nguyen)

Congratulations to the Department of Anthropology, National University of Vietnam-Hanoi, recipient of the 2011 Institutional Development Grant. This renewable grant — providing $25,000 per year for up to five years — will enable the development of a doctoral program in anthropology at the University, which currently has an active undergraduate and Masters level program.  Peek below the cut for an interview Professor Van Suu Nguyen on the department and the state of anthropology in his country.

This is the fifth Institutional Development Grant, a program that began in 2008 and was developed by the Foundation to support the development of doctoral programs in countries where anthropology lacks resources and institutional support. This grant allows the Foundation to continue its mission to develop anthropology worldwide and create a community of international scholars.  Previous Grantees include the University of Cordoba (Argentina), The National University of Mongolia, Tribhuvan University (Nepal), and The University of the Philippines.

Below is a short interview with Professor Van Suu Nguyen, who is in charge of this grant for the Department of Anthropology.


First can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be interested in anthropology?

I first studied history at the Department of History at University of Hanoi, Vietnam. After graduated, I became a lecturer at the Department of History and was interested in the issue of how peasants’ life and economies changed in the Red river delta’s rural villages in the context of Đổi mới policies in Vietnam. In 1998, my university started a collaborative project with the Research School of Asian and Pacific Studies (currently College of Asia and the Pacific) at Australian National University (ANU) to train our university’s faculty members in the fields of anthropology and sociology at ANU, with the financial support of the Ford Foundation. Under this collaboration, I was admitted into the doctoral training program of Department of Anthropology (ANU) in 2000 and this really changed my career orientation from history to anthropology. Currently, in addition to my research and teaching, I am a Deputy Head of the Department of Anthropology at VNU University of Social Sciences and Humanities.


Can you tell us a little about anthropology in Vietnam? What are the pressing questions and concerns for the discipline there?

Anthropology in Vietnam has a long history, as it was introduced into Vietnam in the XIX century by the French and it since developed through several periods of history under the impacts of different anthropological traditions, including the French, Former Soviet Union and Western anthropological ones, into what today I can call ‘Vietnam anthropology’. In my views, there are a number of key issues that currently concern the discipline of anthropology in Vietnam. The first is a need for restructuring the discipline to separate it from history and become an independent academic discipline within the social sciences and humanities, in order to enhance the quality of teaching and research. The second is about research coverage, which I think should expand and be more than merely examining ethnic issues in the mountainous areas of Vietnam to include various other interesting questions in the low land and urban areas of Vietnam, as well as go beyond Vietnamese societies and cultures. The third question is how to enable Vietnamese anthropologists to engage more dynamically with the theoretical debates in the world of anthropology, an issue that Grant Evans and Oscar Salemink once mentioned elsewhere.


Is anthropology a subject that attracts students in Vietnam, and if so why? What do they hope to get from it?

Yes, very much. In the field of social sciences and humanities in Vietnam, I can say that anthropology is one of the most interesting subjects. Students and the public often see it as a subject, which enables the learners to acquire not only knowledge and degrees, but more importantly enables them to explore the society and culture of the people, land and cultures, etc. and work at either academic or applied fields of the discipline.


Can you tell us about your department, its specialties and how the award will help your department as it moves forward?

My Department will reach 45 years of history in 2012 if we count our former Department of Ethnology a part of its history. For many years, our Department’s faculty members’ research interests often emphasized various issues concerning minor ethnic groups in the rural mountainous areas in Vietnam. Since the late 1990s, these have started to include some issues of urbanisation and crossing-border relations, etc.

I would like to express my sincere thanks to Wenner-Gren Foundation for this Institutional Development Award. This Award will enable us to construct the first doctoral curriculum in anthropology as an independent academic training curriculum in Vietnam and to carry out a variety of activities to enhance the teaching and research capacity as well as to strengthen our collaboration with our colleagues in some Departments of Anthropology in the West.


Who have been the anthropologists that have most influential in your own personal formation and why?

My personal career has been influenced by a number of people, who are Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese, anthropologist and non-anthropologist, like Prof Nguyen Van Khanh (VNU University of Social Sciences and Humanities), Prof Nicolas Tapp, Dr Andrew Walker, Prof Ben Kerkvliet and Prof David Marr (ANU), who helped me to understand anthropology and got interested in the work that I have been doing.