Please join the Department of Childhood Studies and Dr. Giang Nguyen-Thu as she presents:

“Digesting late-socialist precarity: Food, motherhood and digital impasses
in contemporary Vietnam”

Drawing from my fieldwork in Hanoi (Vietnam) from October 2016 to July 2018, this presentation explores how Vietnamese mothers use Facebook to navigate in an emerging economy of insecurity caused by the social panic related to food contamination. Using “speed” as my key analytical focus, I attend to the sense of caring impasse, in which the caregiving life is increasingly crammed with endless stimulations, contradicting desires, and hectic movements, while simultaneously feels like moving nowhere. Specifically, young mothers who go online to buy and sell “clean food” feel entrapped between the abject anxiety about “slow death” caused by toxic ingestion and the inevitable hope for their children’s “slow growth.” This kind of entrapment puts mothers in the exhausting situation of having to hope amidst a culture of hopelessness. In the case of mothers who use Facebook to sell “clean food,” the sense of stuckness becomes even more intense due to the accelerating demand of digital update and interactivity, as well as the need to perform an “authentic” mother self online to gain more influence. When mothers’ hearts are put to work in the volatile world of digital marketing, mothers become even more tangled with precarity, overloaded by the impossibility of being a perfect mom. In love and desperation, mothers become the vital nodes in the neoliberal web of individualist survival.

In reaching beyond the critique of immanent precarization under global neoliberalism, I also attend to caring life of the grandmothers, who silently offer their affective and manual labor in sharing the burden of collective vulnerability with their daughters and grandchildren, while simultaneously stay indifferent to the accelerating pace of the digital life and the existential inertia that exhaust the younger hearts. The temporality of grandmotherhood, which is grounded in the history of Vietnam being always already outside the time of the high-modern Western telos, allows us to notice how “out-of-sync” ways of caring continue to resist the colonizing force of fast and slow violence under post-industrial capitalism.

Giang Nguyen-Thu is a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Advanced Research in Global Communication, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania. She finished her doctoral study at the University of Queensland in 2016. Her monograph Television in Post-Reform Vietnam: Nation, Media, Market (Routledge 2019) provides a historical review of popular television in Vietnam and reveals how popular television alters the ways ordinary Vietnamese people organize and make sense of their post-Reform living. She is now interested in the emotional politics of social media in Vietnam. Her current research investigates how Vietnamese mothers use Facebook to navigate in an emerging economy of precarity caused by the widespread panic related to food, environment, and education.

Registration for this event is encouraged.  Please register below:

Date & Time
February 18, 2020
12:45 pm-1:45 pm

Artis Building
329 Cooper St.
Camden, NJ