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Empire, Nation, and Sovereignty: New Theoretical Approaches to Vietnamese Political History

Sat, April 2, 8:30 to 10:30am, Washington State Convention Center, 6th Floor, Room 619

Session Submission Type: Organized Panel


Vietnamese political history has long been dominated by two main narratives: Vietnam’s resistance to China in the premodern period and the communist revolution of the 20th century. Although recent scholarship challenges the reigning interpretations, only a handful of studies have developed alternative theoretical approaches to the study of Vietnamese polities, politics, or political movements. Inspired by Keith Taylor’s notion of “surface orientations” and Christopher Goscha’s usage of the “archipelago state,” this panel proposes concepts that will enable scholars to retheorize the Vietnamese past. Tuong Vu reexamines the history of state formation through the lens of a “shadow empire” and a hegemon. Critiquing conventional understandings of modern Vietnamese sovereignty, Shawn McHale situates the rise of the modern State of Vietnam from 1949 onwards in terms of the “long partition” of the French empire and contestations over what would replace it. Lastly, Nu-Anh Tran proposes the concept of “contested nationalism” as a way to reinterpret the internal Vietnamese conflict that was integral to the First and Second Indochina Wars. Although the panel focuses on Vietnam, the panelists’ discussion of key political concepts, such as empire, nation, and sovereignty, will also be of interest to scholars outside the field of Vietnam studies.

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