From “the People” to “the Human”: HIV/AIDS, Neoliberalism, and the Economy of Virtue in Contemporary Vietnam

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2012


Drawing on archival research and fieldwork conducted in Ho Chi Minh City and its environs in 2007–2008, this article examines a shift from a moral-economic model of protection/patronage turning on the long-standing figure of “the People,” to a biopolitical mechanism of power deploying neoliberal practices and technologies centered on a new figure, here instantiated as “the Human.” In Vietnam in the early 2000s, an older social-evils-based HIV/AIDS apparatus was destabilized by new epidemiological conditions, a reproblematization of epidemic disease after SARS, and the arrival of PEPFAR. Building on literature concerning global humanitarian intervention, I argue that in Vietnam HIV/AIDS prevention and control operates within what I call an “economy of virtue,” the general form in which neoliberal technologies and logics are being incorporated as rational, technical, scientific guarantors of the integrity and dignity of the Human. The remainder of the essay tracks the migration of neoliberal logics to the realm of global health management and their intersection with the political, technological, and ethical elements of late socialism in the combat of HIV/AIDS.




Duke University Press

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