On the 22nd of February 2017, Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung Southeast Asia (RLS SEA) hosted a workshop with the topic of ,,Exploring Socio-Ecological Transformation in Vietnam”. The workshop aimed to clarify the approach of socio-ecological transformation between RLS SEA partners and friends and to differentiate it from other approaches. Also, it drew linkages between the social, ecological and economic spheres of socio-ecological transformation (SET) and relate these to the specific context of Vietnam. Speakers from diverse backgrounds provided insights into several issues interlinked with questions regarding the growth paradigm entailed in neoliberal economic models.
The workshop was initiated by a presentation from Mrs. Liliane Danso-Dahmen, director of RLS SEA. The presentation explained the difference between the approach of sustainable development (SD) and the approach of socio-ecological transformation. Initially SD also attempted to connect the social, ecological and economic domains, but in the long run, it turned out that the concept of SD has privileged existing power structures and capitalist logic. SET basically criticizes the growth paradigm entailed in concepts of development. Liliane’s presentation was followed by an introduction by Dr. Andrew Wells-Dang, which related this discussion to the case of Vietnam. Vietnam has experienced great changes since the Doi moi reforms began in 1986, leading to an upsurge of economic growth and a reduction in poverty. But the focus on economic growth in Vietnam has led to a crossroads as environmental catastrophes, social inequality and climate change are on the rise.
Dr. Lutz Brangsch from RLS Berlin pointed in his presentation towards the paradoxical relationship between the growth paradigm promoted in the mainstream in the ,,Global North” on the one side and the rise of environmental and social problems on the other. The mainstream justifies and promotes growth-oriented behavior and mechanisms as a means to compensate for social and environmental contradictions, even as it is contributing to their continuing increase. Then following, Dr. Boike Rehbein from the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin presented his research findings on social inequality in capitalist societies. Referring to his research, social inequality is not a matter of economic status alone, but lies deeper within the social structure of different societies and is rendered invisible by the so-called symbolic liberalism of formal equality of all people in capitalist societies. These class structures have their origin in pre-capitalist inequalities and persist through and shape the capitalist classes. In order to lower inequality, it is not enough to change the overlaying economic system, but society itself has to be transformed as a whole.
The workshop ended with an insightful presentation by Mrs. Ngo Huong, which traced the changing role of trade unions in the process of economic liberalization in Vietnam. Every presentation delivered fruitful insights for the participants on different perspectives of the effects of neoliberal economic models on society and contributed to the understanding of Vietnamese society. Workshop participants raised and clarified many questions and initiated interesting new discussions. It became clear that the approach of SET has to be considered and evaluated differently in every historical and local context, but all participants agreed that this approach needs to be explored in the face of different present-day crises.