Vietnam's Civilizing Process and the Retreat from the Street: A Turtle's Eye View From Ho Chi Minh City



This paper documents the closing down of street life at the Turtle Lake café district in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Once a bustling area of outdoor activity where patrons would sit in outdoor cafés and turn their gaze towards the public activity of the street, the area has recently been cleared of street side cafés. Instead of looking outward toward the street, patrons now sit indoors in high-end cafes with darkened windows, their gazes directed inwards in a fashion that turns their backs on the street. The new direction of their gaze is linked to both state and popular language about the desire to build a new form of “urban civilization.” In this paper, I show how the language of civilization, coupled with a new spatialized dialectic of seeing, shows a convergence between the disciplinary goals of the late socialist Vietnamese state and the interests of an emerging propertied class in urban Ho Chi Minh City. The logic of “civilization” thus unifies agendas heretofore seen as mutually opposed.