In the second half of 1944, the majority of the roughly fourteen thousand Vietnamese workers who had arrived in France four years earlier, but remained stranded there following France's defeat in June 1940, took advantage of the power vacuum created by the liberation of France. They would launch a diasporic-metropolitan precursor of the Vietnamese August Revolution of 1945 by successfully claiming workers' rights and a sense of dignity they had previously been denied. Loosely adopting Hirschman's concepts of “exit, voice, and loyalty,” this essay investigates the strategies chosen by this subaltern imperial workforce to emancipate itself from the militarized labor camp system. It argues that different interests led the largely illiterate workers and the French-speaking supervisors and interpreters to opt for different strategies.
From Subaltern to Free Worker: Exit, Voice, and Loyalty among Indochina's Subaltern Imperial Labor Camp Diaspora in Metropolitan France, 1939–1944
Tobias Rettig is Assistant Professor of Southeast Asian Studies in the School of Social Sciences, Singapore Management University (SMU). He recently guest-edited a special issue on the Nghệ Tĩnh Soviets of 1930–1931 for South East Asia Research. This paper would not have been possible without the kind invitation of Judith Henchy and Christoph Giebel and SMU's generous funding to attend the conference at the University of Washington, Seattle. Many thanks are due to Mariam B. Lam and Alex Cannon for their encouraging and insightful comments, and to Trang Cao for her superb editing skills. Sincere thanks goes to Jose Yong Jin Chaun for his help in creating the Figure 1 map.
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Tobias Rettig; From Subaltern to Free Worker: Exit, Voice, and Loyalty among Indochina's Subaltern Imperial Labor Camp Diaspora in Metropolitan France, 1939–1944. Journal of Vietnamese Studies 1 August 2012; 7 (3): 7–54. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/vs.2012.7.3.7
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