Media Dissent and Peri-urban Land Struggles in Vietnam

The Case of the Văn Giang Incident

Author: Danielle Labbé


This article explores the role of media-led dissent in Vietnam's contemporary land struggles. The analysis focuses on Vietnamese-language material published online by domestic and foreign media about the so-called Văn Giang incident – a high-profile land dispute that shook the country between 2009 and 2012. Looking at how the media treated this incident broadens studies of land struggles in Vietnam, which up till now have focused on peasants’ resistance strategies. This case not only shows that media practitioners engage in dissent with regard to land politics, but also that they engage in more straightforward criticism of the state and its corporate redevelopment partners than what most analyses of rural land struggles in Vietnam, centered on the micro-level and on “lawful” (O'Brien) forms of resistance, would lead one to believe. Illustrating this point, the author shows that media dissent throughout the Văn Giang land dispute openly challenged the government's justificatory discourse about “displacement for development” as well as the mismanagement of land resources on which political and economic elites rely to dispossess peasants from peri-urban lands. If it has not yet provoked major institutional changes, the media's contribution to land struggles has nevertheless succeeded in creating a genuine, national public debate on land politics in rapidly urbanizing Vietnam.

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December 2015
© E.D. Starin