Navigating Between Ideas of Democracy and Gendered Local Practices in Vietnam
A Bakhtinian reading of development aid practice
This study – drawing from a Bakhtinian reading of aid practice – adds to the debate of contestation within development aid practice by approaching the contestation as taking place in language that reflects both existing realities and the discourses in which the actors are positioned. The study conceptualizes development practice as a process of construction of, and negotiating over, meanings. The selected approach suggests that the ‘ambiguity of words’ that manifests itself in development practice is necessarily a part of development practice as actors simultaneously belong to different and sometimes contradictory contexts in which words are given their meanings. The study argues that multiplicity of meanings has important implications for aid practice and for donors’ agenda of democracy promotion in aid recipient countries. Promotion of democracy necessarily calls for deep contextual understanding as meanings, manifested in concrete utterances, are also contextual and therefore, may vary in ways that hinder or slow down project implementation. Moreover, the study highlights the role of gendered norms and gender roles in Vietnamese society from a perspective of grassroots democracy promotion by showing how they affect women’s access to formal decision making forums in Vietnamese villages.