Drawing from my fieldwork in Hanoi since October 2016, this presentation explores how Vietnamese mothers use Facebook to navigate in an emerging economy of insecurity caused by panic related to food. Recently, food has become a primary source of health concerns in Vietnam due to the perceived failure of the state in preventing the overuse of pesticides, preservatives, and seasonings. Unsurprisingly, mothers are the most acute subjects of food precarity. Many Vietnamese mothers seize the opportunities offered by Facebook to work as online sellers of chemical-free products, forming a thriving community of mother-entrepreneurs. The online and informal market of “clean” food, such as home-grown vegetables, home-cooked meals, or Western supplements, provide mothers with flexible work/housework combination, allowing them to take care of their children while still earning money. Far from being mere economic transactions, this digital market is driven by a deep ethical impulse, when mothers see themselves as protectors of family health and promoters of self-autonomy. Digital motherhood thus serves as a gendered practice of family management with an empowering effect. This intimate community of mother entrepreneurship also acquires an implicit sense of political subversion, grounded on an idea that “dirty food” is intrinsically linked with “dirty government”. When the Vietnamese state fails to respond to primary concerns of its citizens, mothers turn themselves into frontier guards of the nation’s health.
The stories of mothers and food demonstrate the continuity of the double burden (work and care) on Vietnamese women, meaning that the combined legacy of socialism and Confucius remains. But we also see new pressure and changes framed by the late-socialist condition. In the digital world of self-employed mothers, the boundary of working and caring, public and private, productive and reproductive becomes much blurrier, and the over-feminization of labor in the name of the love has become the new norm. The paradox is that in the volatile world of the online market, most mothers become even more tangled with precarity, overloaded by the impossibility of being a perfect mom. In love and desperation, mothers become the vital nodes in the neoliberal web of individualist survivals.
This research is a component of a larger project that analyzes how Vietnamese mothers are digitally governed through precarity, with four case studies of mother’s anxiety about food, health, environment, and education.
Giang Nguyen-Thu is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Advanced Research in Global Communication. She completed her PhD in 2016 at the University of Queensland, Australia on television and nationalism in post-Reform Vietnam. Before joining CARGC, she was a lecturer of media studies at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University, Hanoi. Her research concerns the post-Reform development of the Vietnamese media landscape, the politics of mediated nationalism, the expansion of social media and the practices of everyday resistance in Vietnam related to media consumption. Her forthcoming book published by Routledge, Television in Post-Reform Vietnam: Nation, Media, Market will be released in 2018. Her ongoing research as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the CARGC examines the (in)congruity between the expansion of global precarity and the escalating sense of insecurity embodied by Vietnamese mothers in their engagement with digital media.
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