Home » Bureaucratisation and the state revisited: Critical reflections on administrative reforms in post-renovation Vietnam

Bureaucratisation and the state revisited: Critical reflections on administrative reforms in post-renovation Vietnam

Vol. 12, No. 1 (2016), 1-40


In spite of administrative reforms implemented over the past 30 years of Renovation Policy (Đổi mới) by the Vietnamese Communist Party with massive support from donor agencies, Vietnam’s state machinery and bureaucracy has largely remained bloated and fragmented. As they evolved from state to market, administration and public service did not reform as envisaged in a long-term policy that aims to bring Vietnam closer to Western-dominated, normative models of “good governance.” The ineffectiveness of these reforms has commonly been attributed to poor human capacity, weak law enforcement, inconsistent legal frameworks and similar types of formal institutional shortcomings, all of which ought to be remedied by strengthening formal institutions and capacity building. In going beyond such mainstream institutionalist views, this paper appraises administrative reforms from a more critical, sociological perspective. It takes into account socio-cultural and socio-political institutional factors, such as norms, values and worldviews, which often serve as pivotal elements shaping reform trajectories and outcomes. Conceptually, the paper draws on a 1987 study by Hans-Dieter Evers that traces different types of bureaucratisation as a means to unravel the nature of bureaucracy and its evolutionary process through the lens of social history. This study elucidates that despite formally proclaimed commitments to Weberian bureaucracy, in practice, bureaucratisation as currently observable in Vietnam is chiefly featured by strong tendencies of so-called Orwellisation and Parkinsonisation.

Author’s bio

Since 2014, Simon Benedikter works as a researcher and adviser in the field of environmental change and natural resources governance in Hanoi, Vietnam. Prior to that (2007–2013), he served as a senior researcher at the Center for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn, Germany. Being based in the Vietnamese Mekong Delta during that time, he was engaged in a wide range of social science research activities on water governance, rural development and environmental issues. He holds a Diploma in Southeast Asian Studies and a PhD in Development Studies, both from Bonn University. He is the author of the book The Vietnamese Hydrocracy and the Mekong Delta: Water Resources Development from State Socialism to Bureaucratic Capitalism (2014). His current research interests are concerned with the political and social dimension of ecological change and critical development studies focusing on Vietnam.


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