Embodying morality : Girls' socialization in a north Vietnamese commune

University dissertation from Linköping : Tema, Linköpings universitet

Abstract: This study argues that Vietnamese girls' socialization is inseparable from the symbolic and biological meaning of female and male bodies. Socialization is not so much about "sex" (i.e. biological sex) or "gender" (i.e. social/symbolic sex) as it is about "body". This argument is elaborated theoretically with regard to contemporary research on the body and empirically with respect to a local north Vietnamese fieldsite called Thinh Tri.By exploring the turbulent past of Viet Nam, which includes epoches of Confucianism, Colonialism, Anti-colonialism, Revolution, Communism, and wars, the study shows that contemporary socialization of girls is a process of syncretism of both Confucian and Communist moral ideals.Thinh Tri girls and boys are ensconced in a patrilineally organized universe which emphasizes the importance of practicing either good female or male "morality" (dao duc). From the day a child is born its biological sex is configured due to whether the child is able to reproduce its patrilineage. A boy is seen as a materialization of the history of his patrilineage and, in such terms, his body is ascribed with "honor" (danh du). A son's vital importance for his patrilineage means that he is expected to demonstrate nghia ("obligations"/"loyalty"/"duty") towards his patrilineage by having a son himself when he grows up.A girl's body, on the other hand, is considered to be blank in both biological and symbolic terms. The body of a girl is bound to present time because her blood cannot be passed from one generation to another. This study demonstrates that the blank female body is perceived to be in need of social inscription because it does not incorporate any inborn "honor". Girls' socialization is, therefore, a bodily project of learning how to compensate socially for what is perceived to be a biological deficiency. Girls' bodies are inscribed with appropriate female "morality" by their female kin, in particular, who teach them how to embody the social and symbolic capital of tinh cam ("sentiments"/"feelings"/"emotions"). Tinh cam is assumed to be manifested in various situations of daily social interaction as a significant way of practicing good female "morality". Whenever girls take care of a younger sibling, play with their peers, conduct household chores, and are in kindergarten or primary school, they display from a very young age that they have learned to act with a "sense" (tinh cam) for the logic of a particular social situation. In this light, tinh cam emerges as a crucial social capacity which girls can invest in various fields of daily life.

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