ZEF PhD students from WISDOM project return back from field research in Vietnam

May 20, 2009.  

To get an impression of their experiences in the Mekong Delta, the project area where they did their field research, please read the interview with three of the students: Nadine Reis, Judith Ehlert and Tatjana Bauer. For more information on the WISDOM project have a look at the project homepage » here



Where and when did you do your field research?


Tatjana Bauer: My one-year field research was conducted in two phases. From April to August 2008 I was affiliated with the Southern institute of Sustainable Development in Ho Chi Minh City where I started my field research. For the last 7 months I moved to Can Tho City in the Mekong Delta to continue my research at the Mekong Delta Development Research Institute/ Can Tho University.

Judith Ehlert: I did my field research (April 08 – April 09) in the South of Vietnam, in the Mekong Delta. I was mainly based in Can Tho, which is the biggest city in the delta but spent a lot of time (especially in months of the flood season from around August to November) in the rural areas, on commune level. I had chosen 3<image style="margin-right: 12px; margin-top: 12px" src="http://www.zef.de/fileadmin/webfiles/grafics/wisdom1_200.jpg" align="left"> communes as research sites and had the opportunity to live in a farmer’s family who hosted us (me and my interpreter who was with me all the time and throughout the year) during the flood season in one of the communes. I mainly worked with (rice) farmer communities and with fisher men as well as with local authorities such as the people’s committees, the farmer associations or the women’s unions on commune and district level.

Nadine Reis: I also did my field research in Can Tho, Vietnam, from April 2008 to April 2009.



What is the topic of your PhD research?


Tatjana Bauer: I carried out my PhD research on “Managing and Governing Knowledge in the Water Sector – A Study on the Vietnamese Science and Research Community in Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta” within the WISDOM project.

Judith Ehlert: I work on local knowledge on flood season management in the Mekong Delta, taking Can Tho City as a case. I studied how the flood management strategies and the local people’s perception of flood have changed historically up until now. How do people structure their agricultural patterns, infrastructure, or e.g. their culture of living around that natural and annual resource?

Nadine Reis: My PhD research deals with the policy of rural water supply in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam.



What do you consider to be your most remarkable experience during your field research? What did you find most difficult?


Tatjana Bauer: I very much enjoyed to work together with Vietnamese researchers hand in hand. Having the opportunity to take part in their daily working routine gave me the chance to share and exchange ideas about my field research and to deepen my experiences about the Vietnamese thinking and way of life.

For me, it was rather challenging to work in a very hierarchical and male dominated system. During my interviews I was confronted<image style="margin-left: 12px; margin-top: 12px" src="http://www.zef.de/fileadmin/webfiles/grafics/wisdom2_200.jpg" align="right"> mainly by male interviewees where it was not very easy to be acknowledged as a young female researcher in a country where, for instance, seniority plays an important role.

Judith Ehlert: Most remarkable during the last year were the many traffic accidents that one could see. I also sometimes had to travel about 50 to 70 km to my research sites by motorbike and I am very thankful that never anything happened!

Most difficult was that I do not speak Vietnamese and as a consequence was unable to manage many things by myself but was rather dependent on the help of other people. Not many people speak English in Can Tho or in the rural areas; and although I was able to manage the simplest things in everyday life by gestures or by very, very basic language skills I pretty often had to get to know my limitations of communicating with other people.

Nadine Reis: The most remarkable was to see that in a country which calls itself ‘socialist’, development is governed by nothing else but capitalism.

The most difficult was to have very little social contacts for one year (due to the language barrier), and live in a town where there is nothing to do in the evenings/weekends.



What is the main outcome of your PhD research so far?


Tatjana Bauer: After one year field research I am very satisfied with my data collection because I could investigate how scientific knowledge on water resources is produced, disseminated and applied by Vietnamese research institutes and universities as well as the local authorities in Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta. I mapped all kinds of organizations generating knowledge which <image style="margin-right: 12px; margin-top: 12px" src="http://www.zef.de/fileadmin/webfiles/grafics/wisdom3_200.jpg" align="left">are located in Ho Chi Minh City as well as in the Mekong Delta in order to visualize cluster buildings within the epistemic landscape of this area. In all, I did intensive semi-structured interviews in more than 50 organizations in Ho Chi Minh City and in the Mekong Delta. Moreover, I received more than 270 answered questionnaires from 7 different water-related organizations.

Judith Ehlert: Since I did mainly qualitative research, I conducted about 160 formal and informal interviews, did ethnographic research and participatory observations while living with the host family during the flood season, archive newspaper research and organized and facilitated some PRA workshops (grade 9 students taking pictures of what they associate with the flood season; historical transects with community elderly to find out about the changes in flood and weather characteristics, the patterns of cropping and housing as adaptation to natural conditions and as climate change scenarios; seasonal calendars, social and natural resource mappings etc.)

Nadine Reis: One of the lessons I have learnt is that even though global paradigms, policies and programmes in water supply seem to be very powerful, in Vietnam they have hardly any influence on the reality of water supply.



Now that you are back from the field, what are the next steps for your PhD work?


Tatjana Bauer: Since I am back in Germany I have a rather tight schedule. In the following weeks I will have to finalize the outline of my PhD thesis, write a ZEF working paper of a selective chapter of the dissertation, analyze my empirical data and read the literature related to my topic. Thanks to ZEF and the WISDOM project I can rely on a very competent supervision during the whole writing process which will help me to finish my PhD work next year.

Judith Ehlert: At the moment I am in the very first stage of analyzing all the data that I brought back from Vietnam and try to reflect on the table of content of my PhD thesis. Until the end of July <image style="margin-left: 12px; margin-top: 12px" src="http://www.zef.de/fileadmin/webfiles/grafics/wisdom6_200.jpg" align="right">I will have finished an article on local knowledge (on flood season management) together with my supervisor Prof. Dr. Solvay Gerke. This article will contribute to the theoretical discussion in my doctoral thesis. Until the end of August I am supposed to finish the 1. draft of one of my empirical chapters.

Nadine Reis: At the moment I am working on the detailed outline of my thesis. The next step will be to write a Working Paper on one of the chapters.



What is it like to be back in Germany?


Tatjana Bauer: Now that I am back in Germany for more than one month, I must admit that I still haven’t arrived in Germany yet. The differences between Vietnam and Germany are tremendous. In Vietnam life takes place in the streets. So far, Germany appears to me rather empty, quiet and cold. But I also know that it is just a matter of time until I will be reintegrated in Germany again. Until then, I am reminiscing in all the good and challenging experiences I made during the past year.

Judith Ehlert: I enjoy it very much being closer around family and friends again. What I like most of being back here is the green space in Bonn, the opportunities to go for walks and of just being outside. That was rather difficult in Can Tho due to the hot weather and the little recreational space. What has been pretty much all around you was heavy motorbike traffic and water ;-). Nevertheless, now that 5 weeks have passed already since I am back, first nostalgic moments happen in which I somehow miss this dynamic and lively atmosphere, the smells and sounds of Can Tho.

Nadine Reis: I enjoy being back in Germany very much, especially the quietness and the beauty of a clean environment. And of course I am very happy to be closer to my friends and family.



Alma van der Veen