From the perspective of a person with a lot of experience in this field, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nguyen Truong Giang, Deputy Head of the Faculty of Anthropology under the Hanoi University of Social Sciences and Humanities, granted an interview with a reporter from Nhan Dan Weekly Newspaper.
Anthropology – better late than never
Q: I remember that the Faculty of Anthropology hosted an international conference entitled ‘Digital Anthropology in Vietnam: Trends, Potentials and Prospects’ in late 2018. However, is it difficult for many people to understand the conception ‘digital anthropology’?
A: Previously, we considered anthropology as ethnology. In recent years, due to the impact of the shifting trend in scientific research from developed countries, anthropology has been recognised as a separate ology.
Regarding the international conference, I would like to share that it was the first of its kind in Vietnam and the third one in Asia, after the events in Thailand in 2012 and Singapore in 2014.
We plan to work with several Australian universities to form a digital anthropology centre in Vietnam, which will be responsible for in-depth research on digital humanities issues in addition to anthropology. It will be a research direction of better late than never, meeting the needs of society.
Vietnam is one of the most developed countries in Southeast Asia in the field of the internet. However, we only consider this issue in terms of economic problems. Digital anthropology will help open up diverse possibilities as digital tools and methodologies are applied to create more comprehensive, participatory and empowering community projects. There are a lot of communities in the internet. In-depth research shows that those communities also have their own practices, criteria and operating mechanisms.
Q: However, it is said that the internet is virtual. The communications on social network cause worries about their accuracy because it is not necessary to publicise the participants’ names. Meanwhile, many social organisations are still considering the internet as a basis to make judgments and bases for many in-depth researches. Does that distort the results?
A: From my personal perspective, sociological surveys that were conducted online in Vietnam could not yield accurate results. Vietnamese people are not familiar with this method of investigation, so they often give any rash answer. Therefore, it is crucial to have direct contacts when conducting such investigations in order to ensure their accuracy. It means that, in addition to online surveys, researchers should make offline operations.
Q: Should surveys only be conducted via social networking services in a moderate community and with simple protocol?
A: If online surveys are conducted in a larger community, it is difficult to ensure the accuracy and objectivity. In fact, anthropology is different from sociology. Sociology often uses broad spectrum surveys, while anthropology often goes into the study of small communities as well as defining the focal areas and points.
Legalisation of the anthropology’s role
Q: It is a fact that many people in Vietnam have not distinguished the difference between sociology and anthropology. Does anthropology seem to be a narrow concept?
A: Basically, investigations and interviews are needed in both anthropology and sociology. It means that they have nearly similar study methods. Anthropology has four core sub-disciplines, including cultural anthropology, language anthropology, archeology, applied anthropology and anthropological applications.
Many countries in the world have also divided cultural anthropology into many smaller sub-disciplines that can approach most issues in social life. Accordingly, developmental anthropology is now an appropriate sub-sector in Vietnam. It can participate in solving several problems such as environmental protection and migration conflicts in both rural and urban areas.
Q: It seems that we are still not aware of the importance and impact of anthropology on social development. Has anthropology not played a significant role in social life?
A: In Vietnam, there is a difference between the practice and the research sciences. Sometimes, the reality has already happened, then people realised that if there was the participation of a scientific study, the issue could have been solved better.
In the 1980s of the last century, Prof. Dang Nghiem Van, a big name in the Vietnamese ethnographic sector, warned that if there is not great attention and adjustment, the migration to the Central Highlands will cause major crises such as instability and deforestation. After 20 years, the facts have proven that the warnings were valid.
I think that, with lawful researches that have strict linkage with practice, anthropology is able to make good forecasts for development. Therefore, it is essential to take this field to participate in the process of reviewing and planning for the development of many fields and projects. Managers can listen or not listen, but they need reference from anthropology.
Q: Do you think that it is time to legalise the role of anthropology?
A: In terms of issues related to heritages, if there wasn’t the Law on Heritage, many valuable heritages would have been ruined. I think it is crucial to legalise the role of anthropology, particularly in solving the problems of communities, cultural issues and socio-economic development programmes. The recommends from anthropological scientists are necessary, but the decision is from managers.
Q: You have joined many projects launched by non-governmental organisations and research programmes ordered by State agencies. Could you tell us sabout the difference between the listening and consultation of anthropologists?
A: Non-governmental organisations look forward to newer methods and consultation to access to bring people closer. Meanwhile, the state programmes are still ordered ones.
In the current conditions, it is difficult to talk about anthropology’s impact on reality. This issue is related to your previous question as to whether or not the law is legal. If a legal corridor is created to require consultation from anthropologists, the programmes and projects will create real motivation. Currently, anthropologists are still working and creating impacts on a small community. However, their impact on the entire society is still limited.
Thank you very much!
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nguyen Truong Giang