The Politics of Play: Digital Youth, New Media, and Social Movement in Contemporary Vietnam

Date of Award

Fall 10-1-2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor



Abstract The Politics of Play:Digital Youth, New Media, and Social Movement in Contemporary Vietnam Tri Mac Phuong 2021 This dissertation examines the role of media and the mediascape of contemporary Vietnam some 40 years after national reunification as provocation, palimpsest, and portent to a number of citizen-subject formations, sociopolitical negotiations, and cultural upheavals. In particular, I look at how the Internet and related digital technologies influence urban youth’s civic life, communal ties, and social imaginations, and how these so-called new media intersect and interact with older forms of media at particular conjunctures to produce new values, beliefs, habits, functions, and rituals. Based on 28 months of fieldwork from 2015-2018, I trace networks of artists, filmmakers, community activists, digital bloggers, underground writers, business entrepreneurs, and ordinary youth and how their engagements with media around specific events exemplify a notion of play – a repertoire of everyday tactics that probe the limits of censorship for new ontological possibilities vis-à-vis incumbent disciplinary structures. Over the past decade Vietnam has witnessed an explosion of online activity as increasingly more people connect to the Internet as part of their personal and professional lives. Similar to other Asian and developing countries, the growth of online connectivity in Vietnam is changing the social, political, and economic landscapes at a pace bewildering for its speed and impact. While all nations grapple with issues like online privacy and security, Vietnam has an added layer of an authoritarian government bent on maintaining political control over an increasingly educated, financially mobile, and globally connected population. In the current period of rapid economic growth, Vietnamese youths pioneer trends using media technologies that foreground new notions of individualism distinguished from the shared collective identities of the past. What youth do, say, and think vis-à-vis new media can be used to measure changing notions of personhood, place, and community as well as the degree of state intervention into everyday life that characterizes the specific conditions of late-socialism in Vietnam. The research highlights three themes that frame what I call the politics of play: how people use media technologies to acquire information, communicate desires, and build community in an authoritarian setting; how authorities adapt tactics and systems of control in response to technological changes to manage society; and the relationship between global popular cultures and social movements. Vietnam is a useful case study because the country has long seemed ripe for a youth revolution but has repeatedly avoided major social upheaval. I analyze Vietnamese youth as a potential force for change and show how their multifaceted engagements with old and new media through play variously challenge, buttress, and mystify authority under shifting circumstances.

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