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Full referenceNewton, Natalie Nancy (2012), A queer political economy of 'community': Gender, space, and the transnational politics of community for Vietnamese lesbians (les) in Saigon
Author(s)Newton, Natalie Nancy
TitleA queer political economy of 'community': Gender, space, and the transnational politics of community for Vietnamese lesbians (les) in Saigon
UniversityUniversity of California
Number of Pages471

Social sciences, Community, Gender, Lesbian, LGBT human rights, Postsocialism, Vietnam, Saigon


This project is an ethnographic study of how the globalization of LGBT rights through non-governmental organizations (NGOs) interfaces with existing Vietnamese lesbian gender, sexual subjectivities, and community projects that are "hidden in plain sight" in Saigon. Vietnam is one among five "communist-party led" countries, although Vietnam is associated with rapid post-war economic growth and investment opportunity as a kind of "emerging Asian tiger." Scholars have tracked how these postsocialist socioeconomic changes have facilitated the emergence of new sexual and gender subjectivities in Vietnam. Simultaneously, the global LGBT human rights movement has gained increasing international precedence, especially with the United Nation's first resolution to protect "sexual orientation and gender identity" as a universal human right in 2010. This study argues that Vietnamese lesbians (self-identified as les ) navigate the contingencies of local and global "invisibility" as a community in Saigon in ways that challenge fundamental structures of the NGO-ization of the global LGBT movement. I argue that many Vietnamese les projects do the work of civil society through what I call a queer political economy of 'community,' outside of and in spite of the global LGBT movement.

This is the first ethnographic study of Vietnamese female homosexuality. This study triangulates 21 months of ethnographic data from 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009-2010 in Saigon, video- and audio-recordings of les events, 75 recorded interviews, and Vietnamese popular media. I critique methodological "homo-orientalism" that shaped my research design studying a community that "doesn't exist" to many institutions. This study is among the first to shed light upon Vietnamese "gender" (giói tính) as a complex gender and sexual subjectivity, which challenges conceptions of "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" used in the global LGBT movement. The les projects highlighted in this study--such as the les -exclusive café, les sport championship, and les charity events--show how prior research on postsocialist civil society may be inadequate to encompass les community formation in relation to the State and the global LGBT movement. This research captures key political and cultural tensions in the growing global LGBT human rights movement, as it assimilates ever more sectors of the developing world. (source: ProQuest)

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