Southeast Asia Studies Seminar Series : “Treatments for an age of anxiety: Perspectives from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam”

Event time: 
Wednesday, February 14, 2024 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm
Henry R. Luce Hall (LUCE ), 203 See map
34 Hillhouse Avenue
New Haven, CT 06511
Event description: 

In less than 50 years, Vietnam went from being one of the poorest countries in the world to boasting one of its fastest growing economies. However, according to many people in Ho Chi Minh City, the epicenter of Vietnam’s economic boom, now that the country is modernizing so rapidly, they have more to worry about than ever before. What accounts for the simultaneous rise of economic prosperity, on one hand, and anxiety, worry, and stress, on the other, among Vietnam’s growing middle class? The notion that the current historical moment is an age of anxiety reflects not so much a quantitative change in anxiety but instead a qualitative shift as it gets linked to new forms of insecurity. In Vietnam, the social and psychic context of anxiety is layered within the development of advanced capitalism, the history of the medical and psychological sciences, and new ways of drawing the line between self and society. Indeed, how much worry one can or should endure is at the core of ongoing debates over what constitutes a good life and a moral person. Central to these are the therapeutic contexts such as psychiatric clinics, pharmacies, and counseling centers that have introduced new ways of managing people’s worries and imagining their own possibilities. At a time when people all over the world increasingly turn to the pharmaceutical and wellness industries to soothe their troubled minds, it is worth considering whether the social and political dynamics that make them an appealing salve in the first place may be part of the problem.

Allen L. Tran is an associate professor of anthropology at Bucknell University. His research focuses on mental health and illness, public health, and the urban environment in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. He has published in American Anthropologist, Medical Anthropology Quarterly, and the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. His book A Life of Worry: Politics, Mental Health, and Vietnam’s Age of Anxiety is available on Open Access through the University of California Press.