Alongside economic change, market socialism in Vietnam entails biopolitical campaigns to combat poverty as a “social problem.” Social workers in Hồ Chí Minh City function as agents of therapeutic governance to transform the lives of poor urban clients by employing empathetic interpersonal interaction grounded in scientific models of human behavior. Analysis of social workers’ affective expertise illuminates two gendered and classed consequences of their technoscientific interventions. First, social work is feminized, yet social workers often cannot achieve middle-class feminine ideals. Second, the casework approach risks naturalizing class inequality by atomizing structural problems as stemming from individual characteristics that require reform.

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