Rapid industrialization has come at a high cost to the natural environment in Vietnam. Frustrated with regulatory inaction, Vietnamese citizens from many social backgrounds have taken direct action to protect their country’s natural environment. Most studies about environmental disputes in Vietnam have focused on large-scale conflicts, leaving smaller-scale rural disputes comparatively under researched. Drawing on in-depth interviews, this article explores how knowledge about environmental activism can transform the claims made in small-scale disputes. It examines why these disputes can sometimes succeed in mitigating environmental harm when complaints through administrative and judicial avenues fail.
Scholars have shown that Vietnam’s authoritarian regime responds to citizens. They speculate that this responsiveness may arise from rules within the party regime, citizen engagement, and a strategy that offers preferential treatment to a narrow group of supporters. This article adds to this literature by showing how intermediaries leverage their personal relationships within the party and state to circumvent formal legal and political hierarchies and broker solutions to complex land-taking cases. It uses ethnographic studies of land-taking disputes to explore the limits of law and legal authority in resolving these disputes and analyze how intermediaries use informal dialogical exchanges to sensitize officials to the needs of land users and to increase land compensation. Dialogue not only resolves misunderstandings and promotes understanding, more importantly it gives the parties a common set of norms and assumptions to work toward. However, such dialogue has not completely succeeded in resolving the complexities of land-taking cases in Vietnam.