Research on the good life

12 Sep 2019 | Source: Bielefeld University

ZiF conference on late socialist societies

In recent decades, the centrally planned socialist economy in countries such as Laos, China, and Vietnam has been replaced by a market economy that remains under the political rule of the Communist party. The resulting changes to society have had profound implications on the idea of the good life—from deliberations on housing to those around religion. This is the topic of the conference entitled ‘The Good Life in Late Socialist Asia: Aspirations, Politics, and Possibilities’ to be held from 16 to 18 September at Bielefeld University's Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF). The conference also marks the launch of the ‘WelfareStruggles’ project for which the social anthropologist Professor Dr Minh Nguyen is receiving an ERC Starting Grant from the European Research Council—one of the most important EU research grants.

‘Logics of privatization prevail increasingly in Laos, China, or Vietnam. The socialist state is no longer committed to ensure universal care and well-being. People themselves are made responsible for their individual well-being,’ says Professor D. Minh Nguyen from the Faculty of Sociology. She is organizing the conference together with Dr Phill Wilcox. ‘On the one hand, that puts pressure on people and generates a feeling of moral decline and uncertainty. On the other hand, economic developments open up space for a whole range of aspirations and desires.

The conference will address the good life with interdisciplinary analyses of a variety of issues such as infrastructure, politics, religion, or marriage. For example, the talk entitled ‘The good life as the green life’ will ask which challenges arise if one wants to bring about a vision of the good life that focuses on ecological balance. The talk on ‘Europe’s new Kulturbürger’ will address the Chinese migration and the desire for a cosmopolitan life. ‘In this conference, we want to integrate the different perspectives. Therefore, we have put together a team of international researchers from different disciplines—such as political science, anthropology, or geography,’ says Nguyen.

In her project ‘WelfareStruggles’, Nguyen is studying the welfare of migrant workers in China and Vietnam. ‘The conference at the ZiF ties in very well with this project. To understand welfare—the organization of health insurance and pensions—in late socialist contexts, you need to ground it in underlying ideas of the good life.’ Nguyen’s project has been awarded an ERC Starting Grant by the European Research Council. These grants aim to promote excellent and promising young academics. Nguyen will be receiving approximately 1.5 million euro over a five-year period. ‘The conference coincides with the kick-off phase of the project. We have just finished setting up our research team and the conference is a good opportunity to explore our research together with colleagues,’ says Nguyen.

The conference will be held from 16 to 18 September in the Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF), Methoden 1, 33615 Bielefeld.

Further information:
• Website and programme of the Conference ‘The good life’
• Website of the project ‘WelfareStruggles’
• Press release ‘Bielefeld sociologist awarded EU science prize‘