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Standardized forms of Vietnamese selfhood: An ethnographic genealogy of documentation



Three standardized forms used to write the self in Vietnam structure ways of thinking about the relationship between the individual, family, and state; legitimize technical expertise and tools of self-improvement; and promote specific configurations of political economy. Two of the forms (the lý lịch autobiographical statement and the “Cultured Family” self-assessment checklist) are closely associated with socialist practices. The third (social work case file) is best classified as neoliberal. Tracing the genealogy of these forms and their ethnographic contexts reveals, however, underlying continuities in logics of individual assessment and faith in the application of technical expertise to achieve desired development outcomes. It also demonstrates that the ostensibly more coercive socialist technologies of documentation have provided narrative frameworks that enable individuals to represent themselves in other contexts, whereas the social work case file that aims to empower individuals may ultimately render them passive subjects of transnational expertise.

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