Grant Supports Study in Vietnam – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Grant Supports Study in Vietnam

Hobart and William Smith Colleges sociology professor and two students will travel to Vietnam to study social change.

(November 4, 2003) GENEVA, N.Y.–Jack Harris, professor of sociology at Hobart and William Smith, was awarded a grant from the ASIANetwork Freeman Student Faculty Fellows Program to study social transitions and transformations in Vietnam. Working with William Smith senior Gwynne Decker and Union College student Danielle Faul, Harris' research will establish the groundwork for future collaborations with researchers in Vietnam, and generate independent field project activities for students attending the Partnership for Global Education (between Hobart and William Smith and Union College) study abroad program in Vietnam. Harris, Decker, and Faul will travel to Vietnam this winter (Dec. 26-Jan. 19) to execute the research project.

Vietnam continues to express the Confucian values of cultural equilibrium, compromise and solidarity, which comprise the primary ethic of social integration. There is also lingering Marxist socialism. In contradiction to these two traditions stands the free-market economy and the rapid embrace of capitalism. In this project, Harris and the students will explore how the Vietnamese are negotiating and resolving the contradictions of socialist and capitalist theory and practice in commercial development and in healthcare, especially pre-natal care.

Decker's project examines the strains between traditional understandings and processes in the sphere of business and commercial development. Decker will compare different periods of time: historical periods in which Confucianism and communism dominated as economic and social models, and then the effects of capitalism as it begins to emerge and its contrast with the ongoing Confucian and communist social forces as they exist today. In addition, Decker will study the Vietnamese business system of relationship building during negotiations, strategy use in investment, and research into the code of ethics followed by businesses. She will explore the abilities of the Vietnamese to operate on a global scale and the importance of the cottage industry to economic stability. Finally, she will draw conclusions about the history of business in the rural and urban areas based on personal interviews and written sources.

The end of Decker's research will provide current economic information about Vietnam, with supporting historical information detailing cultural, economic, political, and social factors, that have led to Vietnam's current economic position. This information, detailing past and present economic trends, should provide a valuable tool for assessing future development in the country.

A double major in Asian languages and cultures, and change and development in contemporary southeast Asia, Decker studied in Vietnam in the spring of 2002, and performed an internship with the Foreign Commercial Service Office in the American Embassy in Hanoi.

Faul's project will focus on how the increased quantity of technology and exposure of global business will influence the quality of prenatal care offered to urban women in Hanoi and women in Sapa, northern Vietnam. Faul studied in Vietnam last year, and researched how the quality of prenatal care differed between Hanoi and rural districts in northern Vietnam. In Sapa, where Faul did the majority of her initial field research, she discovered that the communal clinics lacked the technology to diagnose or treat maternal illnesses. Patients needing medical care had to be transported to the district hospital, which lacked modern technology used by obstetricians in Hanoi, namely, ultrasound machines.

On this trip, Faul will collect and analyze literature about prenatal care and medical standards from the United Nations library in Hanoi and will conduct direct interviews with doctors and midwives in Hanoi and Sapa, and also health care professionals and staff working for the World Health Organization and Save the Children, U.S.A. Understanding how strengthening the relationship between Vietnam and the nations that invest in Vietnam has already affected prenatal care for urban and rural women will help predict how the prenatal care programs will be influenced as global business begins to play a larger and vital role in the Vietnamese government and economy. Faul's research will be able to use developments over the past 10 years to predict the future of prenatal care in Vietnam.

Harris has taught at HWS for 28 years, and has a long history of successful mentoring student honor's projects and independent studies, including one on “Implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam: Meeting the Needs of Vietnam's Children Through Child Advocacy and Children's Rights.” He teaches the research practicum for graduating seniors that is oriented to practical social science research through standard computer research and presentation tools. Harris teaches the gateway course, “Sociology of Vietnam,” for the Partnership for Global Education off-campus program in Vietnam. He led the off-campus program in 1997, and has supported faculty development efforts to build and sustain the program by leading faculty group study tours to Vietnam.