Policing in a changing Vietnam: A Southern Policing perspective

Melissa Jardine1
1UNSW Law, Kensington, Australia

Vietnam is a one-party state with police required to pledge loyalty to the Vietnamese Communist Party. The police emerged during a time of political instability in a war against colonialism and for national independence which has imbued the force with particular dramaturgical presentations. In the last 30 years, Vietnam has undergone rapid economic and social change and new challenges confront the police amid increasing prosperity. The unique experiences of Vietnamese police are worthy of investigation and were the subject of this ethnographic project with fieldwork undertaken over a six-month period in 2016. The theoretical framework seeks to address weaknesses in current theorising of policing. Knowledge about policing has been produced and disseminated unevenly so that our understanding comes from a skewed emphasis on the Western experience. In developing a framework for a Southern Policing perspective, I propose an extension of the interactive model of police culture and practice developed by Chan (1997; Chan et al. 2003) which draws on Bourdieu’s (1990) conceptualisations of field and habitus as a relational dynamic. The framework is useful because it provides flexibility for explaining police practices in both Northern and Southern contexts. It can also account for differences in cultural knowledge and institutionalised practices. It pays attention to variations in the field, including the historical relations of a particular place, its political system, broad societal culture, legal frameworks, organisations, relations between police and the community, and gender as a social institution. A Southern Policing perspective also recognises that capital comes in forms which may depart from those identified in previous studies. If we understand police culture to be fluid because officers have agency to pursue different forms of capital, it is important to recognise that societies may weigh various forms of capital differently leading to different manifestations of police culture. These elements are explored in the context of policing in a changing Vietnam.

Melissa Jardine is a Director for the Global Law Enforcement & Public Health Association, and, Gender Advisor & Communications Manager for the Centre for Law Enforcement & Public Health. She has a long term interest in the development of policing and security in Asia and has written and delivered a range of international police training packages regarding harm reduction approaches to drug use and sex work, and police-public health leadership, including for UNODC. Melissa was a Victoria Police officer for 10 years. Her PhD research adopts a Southern Policing perspective to examine the nature of policing and police culture in Vietnam. In 2017, Melissa was named an Asia 21 Young Leader by the Asia Society.


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