Is Local Community the Answer?

The Role of “Local Knowledge” and “Community” for Disaster Prevention and Climate Adaptation in Central Vietnam

In: Asian Journal of Social Science
Ole Bruun Roskilde University

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Mette Fog Olwig Roskilde University

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This article critically examines claims that “local community” and “local/traditional knowledge” are vital contributions to safeguarding socio-economic stability and securing sustainable resource uses in times of stress. The empirical focus is on Central Vietnam, but the argument is relevant in a broader context. The article specifically questions approaches to disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation that see “local community knowledge” as a vital means to achieving resilience in socio-ecological systems. We argue that rural villages in Central Vietnam are characterised by highly dynamic local actors who eagerly exploit new income opportunities arising both from internal and external sources. Although a wide range of knowledge is available about how to cope with adverse climate and environmental conditions, this knowledge is hardly “resilience” and “equilibrium” oriented. Rather, it is found to be anthropocentric, externally oriented, sometimes opportunistic, and ultimately oriented towards an urban lifestyle—traits that are strongly rewarded by the Vietnamese state. We conclude that, at present, local aspirations may not necessarily be part of the solution, but may form part of a social and political complex that exacerbates risk, particularly for weaker population segments. Instead, new and non-state actors should play a larger role.

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