Navigation auf


ISEK - Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies Social and Cultural Anthropology

Aspirations for Change 4.0: The Making of Innovation in Vietnam

Annuska Derks, Rivka Eisner, Esther Horat, Nadja Kempter and Phuong Nguyen


“Innovation” has become the buzzword of our time. The term has been showing up everywhere from education to business, to science and development discourses. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently proclaimed innovation to be the necessary ingredient for successfully addressing all matter of global challenges. Behind this exaltation of innovation is a strong belief that technological improvements and progress are prime factors in increasing a country’s wealth and its citizens’ standard of living, and that key determinants of technological growth are people’s ability to innovate, work and think creatively, and implement their new ideas through entrepreneurial practices.

The term “Fourth Industrial Revolution” (4IR) captures this belief in technological progress very well, including expectations that these advancements will bring about innovations that pave the way to a bright and sustainable future. The promises and challenges of 4IR engross countries all over the world and also open up new prospects for those trying to avoid the middle-income gap. A prime example of this is Vietnam. Recently, the General Secretary of Vietnam’s Communist Party unequivocally expressed Vietnam’s enthusiasm for 4IR-inspired development, stating that his country would join the 4IR and leave no one behind. As elsewhere, Vietnamese citizens are being called upon to be or become innovative in the quest for smart, sustainable and inclusive development.

This project seeks to critically examine this focus on innovation as a panacea for society’s problems and development. Vietnam is a particularly interesting case because it is hailed as a possible new global innovation hub, whereas these innovations are at the same time threatening to destroy the very industries on which Vietnam’s recent economic growth was built. Moreover, Vietnam’s recent history of socialist revolution and economic renovation provide a unique context for the analysis of innovation as a political and contested concept.

Consequently, our main question is: How is innovation made in Vietnam? The project seeks to interrogate the making of innovation within three different, interconnected domains: discourses/narratives, social actors and practices. To address the question within these three areas, our ethnographic research will engage with the making of innovation in five key sectors of Vietnam’s visions of “Change 4.0”: a) higher education; b) start-up culture and entrepreneurship; c) digitalization and the sharing economy; d) high-tech agricultural production; and e) energy efficiency and sustainability. Through a multi-sited approach, the projects will follow people, things and ideas in Vietnam’s “chains of innovation,” combining fine-grained ethnographic research within specific locations and among particular innovation actors with in-depth interviews and analysis.


Attribution: Image by David Peterson from Pixabay. Icons via Flaticon.