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Reconsidering the Vietnamese development vision of “industrialisation and modernisation by 2020”

The role of ideas in the policy‐making process has been taken up by institutional analysts who found the structured approaches of institutionalism wanting in predicting political changes. But this ideational turn has been plagued by definitional ambiguity with repercussions for the research methods: specifying and elaborating the core concept of "idea" is often skipped over, in favour of synonymical terms, without exploring the relationship between the concepts. Likewise, what policy making entails and which aspect or element of it is under study is also often unspecified. Instead, the focus is on ideational power and the causal mechanisms, but the ontological side‐steps raise interesting questions about operationalisability. This paper seeks to apply the ideational perspective to a socialist centralised planning context, specifically the Vietnamese socio‐economic development plans and planning apparatus. The phrase “industrialisation and modernisation by 2020” can be seen in many Vietnamese circles: whether it be the communist party, policy‐makers, consultants, scholars, or government officials, the phrase is used mostly as an opener, a suffix, and appearing as valueneutral. This paper suggests that “industrialisation and modernisation by 2020” is more than a slogan, and as an idea, exercises influence over socio‐economic development policy‐making through the institutional set‐up of Vietnamese development planning that reproduces and propagates the mantra of industrialisation. This prioritisation of the economic and industrial is further reinforced by the fluidity of the boundary between policy and law in Vietnam, to the detriment of other aspects of socio‐economic development that are not related to “industrialisation and modernisation”. This analysis of Vietnamese socio‐economic development planning demonstrates the essentially inductive process through which "ideas" are identified, defined and attributed, and raises questions about operationalising analyses of ideational power.


Siwei Tan


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