This post builds on the research article “Post/Socialist Affect: Ruination and Reconstruction of the Nation in Urban Vietnam,” which was published in the May 2013 issue of the Society’s peer-reviewed journal, Cultural Anthropology.
Cultural Anthropology has published essays about architecture, building projects, and state imaginaries. See Filip De Boeck's "Inhabiting Ocular Ground: Kinshasa's Future in the Light of Congo's Spectral Urban Politics" (2011); Ana María Alonso's "Conforming Disconformity: "Mestizaje," Hybridity, and the Aesthetics of Mexican Nationalism" (2004), Krisztina Fehérváry’s "From Socialist Modern to Super-Natural Organicism: Cosmological Transformations through Home Decor" (2012), Mia Fuller's "Building Power: Italy's Colonial Architecture and Urbanism, 1923-1940" (1988), and Alex Weingrod's "Changing Israeli Landscapes: Buildings and the Uses of the Past" (1993).
Cultural Anthropology has published essays about ruins and decay in relation to war, financial crisis, and empire. See Andrew Alan Johnson's "Progress and Its Ruins: Ghosts. Migrants, and the Uncanny in Thailand" (2013); Joe Masco's "'Survival is Your Business": Engineering Ruins and Affect in Nuclear America" (2008); Ann Laura Stoler's "Imperial Debris: Reflections on Ruins and Ruination" (2008); Karolina Szmagalska-Follis' "Reposession: Notes on Restoration and Redemption in Ukraine's Western Borderland" (2008); and Liam Buckley's "Objects of Love and Decay: Colonial Photographs in a Postcolonial Archive" (2005).
Questions for Classroom Discussion
What is socialist affect as described by Schwenkel? What is postsocialist affect? How are the two related in this essay?
This essay treats bricks as “symbolic cultural objects” whose signification has varied dramatically over colonial, socialist, and postsocialist landscapes. Schwenkel shows how aspects of gender, economy, geopolitics, and affect in Vinh City have been configured over time in relation to bricks. Are there materials in your fieldwork which could be similarly productive? Which actors, aspirations, and relations would come forward in paying attention to this material?
The author raises the question, “How might one study the history of a socialist city through bricks and their affective resonances?” Bricks were central to Vinh’s rebuilding, but not everyone in Vinh was able to live in a brick residence such as Quang Trung. Would it be possible to tell the socialist city’s history through a different, minor, or less iconic material such as thatch? If so, would it yield a different history, with different affective resonances, or different cycles of optimism and disenchantment?