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TROPICALITY AND TOPICALITY: PIERRE GOUROU AND THE GENEALOGY OF FRENCH COLONIAL SCHOLARSHIP ON RURAL VIETNAM

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Abstract:

ABSTRACT

This article discusses the relevance of the work of Pierre Gourou for Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese scholarship on colonial and postcolonial rural society in Vietnam. The term “tropicality” is used to situate Gourou's work within the framework of both French and Vietnamese regimes of truth. It is argued that Gourou was aware of the complex human geographies of the tropics and monsoon Asia and the challenges this posed to both Western and “tropical” peoples. Gourou and the issue of tropicality is used to show that Vietnamese scholars did not completely reject French colonial systems of knowledge, and that decolonisation did not herald a complete shift in knowledge about rural Vietnam. Rather, since the 1940s there has been antagonism and accommodation between colonial and postcolonial, French and Vietnamese modes of knowledge production. While Gourou underscored the otherness of the tropics, and there are colonial overtones in his work, he had an immense influence on indigenous ethnography and geography in Vietnam and elsewhere in the formerly colonised world. The article traces this important influence and how it has been both questioned and affirmed since independence in the Vietnamese context. It is suggested that the humanistic approach that Gourou pioneered in his 1936 study of the Red River Delta of northern Vietnam has outlived and been able to overcome the setbacks and drawbacks of both colonial and revolutionary/Vietnamese politico-intellectual projects.

Keywords: Red River Delta; Vietnam; human geography; tropicality; village studies

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9493.2005.00228.x

Affiliations: Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Holland, Email: J.G.G.M.kleinen@uva.nl

Publication date: November 1, 2005

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