Writing in the Margins: Indigenous Literacy, Childhood Socialization, and Rapid Modernization in a Vietnamese Village
David Paulson

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Temple University

Primary Discipline

Abstract Since the 1986 Đổi Mới economic reforms, language-education policy in Vietnam has undergone unprecedented change in the interest of “developing the nation” by 2020 (Taylor 2001). Robust financial and institutional investments have been made in support foreign languages, while far less have been devoted to the indigenous languages of ethnic minorities (Djité 2011). As a result, ethnic Cham minorities have been left to contend with maintaining their spoken language and literary traditions as they are routinely devalued in the ideological climate of “modernity” (Harms 2011). Drawing on ethnographic observations of Cham-, Vietnamese-, and foreign-language literacy classrooms, as well as religious temples, homes, and other spaces where these languages are used, this research examines the socialization experiences and everyday language practices of Cham ethnic-minority children and youth as they transition into mainstream Vietnamese education. Through an investigation of both informal and institutionally organized interactions, this study analyzes how participation in indigenous, national, and international literacy practices indexes different senses of cultural citizenship (Rosaldo 1997), which, in turn, inform Cham minority children’s complex sense of belonging within, and their meaningful intergenerational engagement with, the language and culture of their parents amid Vietnam’s post-socialist transformation. This investigation reveals how indigenous children cultivate proficiency in the culturally organized use of multiple literacies in this context, and how Vietnam’s rapid development informs experiences of childhood, transforms everyday language practices, and affects the vitality of minority languages in the 21st century.
About David Paulson
Dave Paulson is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Temple University. His enduring research interests are committed to understanding the complex intersections of language endangerment, cultural socialization, and transformations to the (broadly conceived) material world. His doctoral-dissertation research has been supported at different stages by the Temple Global Studies Program, the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the Fulbright U.S. Student Program in Vietnam. Before coming to Temple, Dave conducted undergraduate studies at Southern Connecticut State University in Anthropology, with minors in Asian Studies and Psychology, as well as Master’s Studies in Bilingual, Multicultural Education & TESOL. At Temple University, Dave helped to establish the Visual Anthropology Society at Temple (VAST) and has been a Research Fellow at Center for Vietnamese Philosophy, Culture, and Society at Temple University since 2011. His dissertation committee consists of anthropologists whose areas of expertise compliment his current research agenda: Paul B. Garrett (Language Shift & Endangerment, Ideologies of Language), Inmaculada M. García-Sánchez (Language Socialization, Language & Culture in Educational Contexts), and Jayasinhji Jhala (Cultural Heritage Representation, Visual Communications). Following the completion of doctoral-dissertation studies, Dave intends to work in higher education and continue his anthropological research in Vietnam exploring issues pertaining to language socialization and cultural reproduction. In particular, he aspires to use his pedagogical training to help develop improved teaching and literacy materials for endangered-language communities as part of a life-long commitment to improving the world in terms of language and social justice.

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