The Anthropology Vietnam Field School went ahead from Jan 3-24, 2017. It was our biggest and most successful field school ever, including 42 students from CASS and the College of Medicine, Biology & Environment, and featuring for the first time an ambitious program of shared teaching and research activities for these Anthropology and Environmental Science students. Convenor Ashley Carruthers worked together with David Freudenberger from the Fenner School to co-ordinate a week of intensive classroom and field-based study of ethnographic methodology in Cam Thanh commune in Central Vietnam. With the exceptionally warm and capable support of our partner, LNGO Action for the City, students worked in the classroom and in the field pursuing topics such as agricultural livelihoods, ecotourism, access to mobility as a problem of social/gender equality, critical grassroots perspectives on development, and sustainable local entrepreneurship. Each student group worked closely with an Action for the City or an An Giang University research facilitator cum interpreter who was intimately acquainted with our local case studies. Our shared week ended with student presentations, and a roundtable with local government, NGO and business leaders on issues of development, environment and social equity in Cam Thanh – an event which turned out to be an amazing display of Vietnamese civil society in action.
Anthropology and Fenner School students then went to separate fieldsites for the middle part of the school. For the Fenner students, the destination was An Giang Province, deep in the Mekong Delta, where their research was supported by An Giang University. Meanwhile the anthropology students went to Quang Nam Province’s most remote district, Tay Giang, where we were supported by our local sponsor, the Tay Giang People’s Committee. This was the first large group of international visitors ever to come to Tay Giang, Vietnam’s least populous district, and we were met with a reception that was warm to say the least. Tay Giang’s population is 95% Khatu, a community of hill people who have only in recent years come into sustained contact with the lowland Vietnamese state. Each day was spent visiting a different commune, where we had frank and sometimes mindbending conversations around topics such as government policy on buffalo sacrifice, marriage-by-kidnapping, and the virtues of traditional and organic swidden agriculture. Each night this was digested along with dinner at one of the town’s two restaurants, with the discussion sometimes spilling over into karaoke.
After a brief sojourn in Da Lat, where we looked at the culture and politics of coffee production, the anthropology students re-joined the environment students in the idyllic surrounds of the Ta Lai Longhouse, a community-based ecotourism initiative located right in the jungle of the Cat Tien National Park. Along with some leisure activities such as a visit primate sanctuary Dao Tien, and some kayaking and swimming in the river below the longhouse, Ta Lai provided the perfect location for our student conference. CASS and CMBE student groups presented on their research experiences in two very different Vietnamese locales, allowing us to get an extremely enlightening comparative perspective on the delta and the uplands.
More than one student was heard to comment that this was the peak experience of her career at the ANU, and at least four Anthropology students, both undergraduate and postgraduate, are actively pursuing internships in Vietnam for this academic year.