Environmental Protests and Political Change in Authoritarian Regimes: The Case of Vietnam

Project: Research

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The project seeks to capture the role and consequences of the growing number of environmental protests in Vietnam, which are widely reported in the local press and which suggest significant change in the state-society relationship in the 14th most populous country in the world. So far, environmental protests in Vietnam have surprisingly drawn very little attention in the academic literature.Reports about environmental protests have become common in the Vietnamese press, which is surprising in an authoritarian regime in which protests are generally viewed as a threat and the media is controlled by the state. Preliminary research shows that quite a few reports are primarily factual and are not biased against the protesters. Instead, the companies responsible for the environmental pollution or local officials are often blamed for the protests. However, in some instances, the reporting changes significantly and becomes heavily biased against the environmental activists. This demonstrates that there are different competing discourses surrounding environmental protests about which relatively little is known.The project will fill this gap. It will collect all reports about environmental protests in major Vietnamese newspapers since the early 2000s and use an interpretive content analysis to determine different discourses in the texts. This will be combined with case studies of three to four protests that were reported very differently in the press. The field research will primarily rely on interviews with journalists and editors as well as government officials and activists, who will provide background information about what may have been left out of the reports. This will allow the researcher to determine differences in the media perception from those of observers and participants. The changing discourse of environmental protests will make it possible to indicate political changes in the country and the context in which those occur.The research will make significant academic, methodological and practical contributions. Theoretically, the research will contribute to the discussion over whether protests are a threat to one-party rule or help strengthen the regime by providing important information about societal grievances. Methodologically, the research applies an interpretative framework that is particularly suited to media sources that do not reflect an authoritative source of information but are rather state-approved representation of events such as protests. Practically, the project will provide new evidence about the changing nature and discourses of environmental protests that can provide an in-depth understanding of growing contention that is useful to scholars as well as policy-makers.


Project number9048135
Grant typeECS
Effective start/end date1/12/18 → …