Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Embodying Morality

Embodying Morality: Growing Up in Rural Northern Vietnam

Helle Rydstrøm
Copyright Date: 2003
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Embodying Morality
    Book Description:

    One of the first anthropological studies based on extensive fieldwork in Vietnam in decades, Embodying Morality examines child-rearing in a rural Red River delta commune. It is a sophisticated and intriguing exploration of the ways in which a family system based on principles of male descent influences the moral upbringing and learning of girls and boys. In Vietnamese culture boys alone perpetuate the patrilineal family line; they incorporate the past, present, and future morality, honor, and reputation of their father's lineage. Within this patrilineal universe, girls are viewed as blank sheets of paper and must compensate for this deficiency by embodying tinh cam (sensitivity, sense). Such attitudes play a significant role in the upbringing of girls and boys and in how they learn to use and understand their bodies. Helle Rydstrøm offers fresh data--from audiotapes, videotapes, textbooks, observations in the home and at school--for identifying the transformation of local and educational constructions of females, males, and morality into body styles of girls, boys, women, and men. She highlights the extent to which body performances in daily life produce, reproduce, and challenge widespread northern Vietnamese ideals of femininity and masculinity. The author's highly original application of post-structuralist theory to Vietnam blends epistemology, practice, body, and socialization theories with feminist analysis and relates these to children's learning. By proposing the body as an analytic category that can move feminist theory beyond the impasse of the well-established opposition between sex and gender, Embodying Morality demonstrates vividly how specific cultural elaborations of corporeality are learned, lived, and experienced in contemporary rural Vietnam.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6233-6
    Subjects: History, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. IX-XVIII)
  4. Note on Transcription
    (pp. XIX-XXI)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. XXII-XXII)
  6. CHAPTER 1 First Morality, Then Knowledge
    (pp. 1-22)

    Let me begin this study of a rural commune called Thinh Tri at the end, with the last day of my fieldwork.¹ Sitting on woven straw mats on the floor in the living room, I shared a farewell meal with my host family, a two-generation communist cadre (can bo;lit. civil servants) well known in the local community for its political strictness and honorable reputation. The senior female of the household, a forty-five-year-old woman named Khai, had been a soldier during the war against the United States (1965–1975) and had been officially honored for her efforts.² Today she is...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Situating Bodies
    (pp. 23-35)

    As we shall see, the vital point of departure with respect to Thinh Tri girls’ and boys’ learning of good morality is whether a child has a female or male body. The tradition of patrilineal ancestor worship and its celebration of male progeny—or, in symbolic terms, the phallus—invites a thorough discussion of the ways in which females, males, and their bodies can be understood more analytically. I shall in this chapter elucidate that the notions of sex and gender can be reconsidered and subsumed by the category of the human body, which, sui generis, is composed of physiological...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Female Morality
    (pp. 36-50)

    If the firstborn is a son, a Thinh Tri couple usually will not be concerned with the sex of the second child and will have only two children.¹ But if couples do not produce a son, they will often keep on having children; thus families with many children have only girls and perhaps one son (the youngest). As we shall discuss below, the ardent desire to have a son is related to patrilineal ancestor worship. Social life thus revolves around the paternal bloodline(huyet thong),and households are organized in patrilineal families(nha/gia dinh),which are either nuclear or extended....

  9. CHAPTER 4 Practicing Tinh Cam
    (pp. 51-82)

    In Thinh Tri virtually all children are seen as precious and lovable “little human beings”(nguoi be). Therefore, much attention is paid to them, and they are invited to participate in daily social life as small members of their community. As little human beings, however, children are not expected to have much experience (see La Fontaine 1998). As noted in chapter 1, they have to be “socialized” in order to become appropriate moral beings. But it is not assumed that girls and boys are to be turned into social beings in identical ways. In this chapter, I shall examine daily...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Corporeal Honor
    (pp. 83-115)

    Whereas girls display good morality through the practice oftinh cam, for boys good morality is intertwined with corporeal honor. As we have already discussed in the previous chapters and as I wish to explore further in this chapter, a boy’s body in itself signals respect and esteem (see Campbell 1964:268).

    Because of the patrilineal logics around which the local world revolves, a boy and his body are imbued with symbolism concentrated in the phallus. A son is recognized as holding inborn patrilineal honor per se because he has the phallus, which, in turn, becomes the iconographic symbol of the...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Learning Morality in School
    (pp. 116-139)

    The Thinh Tri daycare centers (nha tre;lit. home for children), kindergartens (mau giao;lit. motherly education), and primary school(truong)play a major role in girls’ and boys’ acquisition of good female or male morality, and the notions oftinh camand honor influence the interactions and pedagogy that occur there. In this chapter, I shall consider how the educational system motivates pupils to conduct themselves in ways that are recognized as appropriate. Hence, we shall discuss how local pedagogical ideas and practices work as strong forces with respect to Thinh Tri children’s learning of morality.

    Children begin attending...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Body Styles
    (pp. 140-158)

    Thinh Tri girls’ or boys’ body styles are developed and integrated as components of a child’s habitus and mark the distinction between, on the one hand, femininity, the female body, and female morality and, on the other, masculinity, the male body, and male morality (see Ben-Ari 1997:30–93; Cameron 1997:1–18; Croll 1995:93–96). In addressing this distinction, I shall in this chapter elucidate the ways in which Thinh Tri girls and women demonstrate femininity and boys and men, masculinity through body styles.

    Through daily interaction, girls and boys learn about a host of collectively approved practices—how to smile,...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Conclusions
    (pp. 159-168)

    Throughout this study we have seen that Thinh Tri girls’ and boys’ learning of morality is intimately intertwined with the patrilineal organization of the local world. Girls’ and boys’ “socialization” into what are perceived to be citizens with good female or male morality is pervaded by the influential opposition between “inside lineage” and “outside lineage.”

    Recall that a son belongs to the “inside lineage”; as such he already incorporates cross-generational honor, reputation, and morality. The body of a daughter, because of her “outside lineage” position, appears as truly blank. It is turned into a materialization of the metaphor of the...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 169-190)
  15. Glossary
    (pp. 191-200)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 201-220)
  17. Index
    (pp. 221-232)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 233-234)