So the Fourth International Conference on Vietnamese Studies is taking place at the moment in Hanoi (or perhaps just coming to an end right about now).

The theme of the conference is “Vietnam on the Road to Integration and Sustainable Development” (Việt Nam trên đường hội nhập và phát triển bền vững). Looking at some of the panels and abstracts I see that this term, “integration” (hội nhập), is everywhere. Everyone seems to be talking about “integration,” but what is everything getting integrated with???

The obvious assumption to make, I think, is that scholarship in Vietnam is getting “integrated” into “the world of international scholarship.” But in looking at how “international scholarship” is represented at this conference, I’m not sure what exactly that means.

The opening panel of this conference, “Panel 1,” was dedicated to Vietnamese history. The first seven people listed on the panel were all foreign nationals. I’ve seen this before at international conferences in Vietnam. Giving certain foreigners a prime place at the opening of a conference seems to be a respectful welcoming gesture at the same time that it highlights the “international” nature of the conference.

Who were these seven participants? According to the program I saw they were as follows: Andrew Hardy (EFEO) who was presenting together with Nguyễn Tiến Đông (Viện Khảo cổ học), Alexei Polyakov, Anatoly Sokolov, Andrei Fedorin (all from Russia), Claudine Salmon (France), Dae-yeong Youn (South Korea), and Dashtsevel Sonom-Ish (Mongolia).

There is a lot about this group of people and their presence at the start of “Panel 1” at the Fourth International Conference on Vietnamese Studies that is being held in 2012 that I find interesting. First of all, if we count Andrew Hardy as an “honorary Frenchman” given that he has a degree from France and works for the EFEO, then this group of 7 consists of 2 French people, 3 Russians, a South Korean and a Mongolian.

What “world of scholarship” do these people represent? It looks to me a lot like worlds of scholarship that Vietnamese scholars had already integrated with prior to Đổi Mới. So is the point to say here that the field of historical scholarship in Vietnam is again integrating into worlds (the French and the Russian) that it has previously integrated with?

Meanwhile, for some academics and university administrators in some parts of the world these days the game is all about integrating with a certain “international standard” of excellence that is determined by things like the Shanghai Jiao Tong rankings which look at things like how many scholars at a university have published in “five star” journals.

If this is the world that Vietnamese are attempting to integrate with then this group does not seem entirely appropriate. The three Russians and the Mongolian do not have any such publications that I am aware of.

On the other hand, Claudine Salmon is a very respected scholar who has published extensively on the Chinese and Peranakan in island Southeast Asia. And while I do not know Dae-yeong Youn, I think I have read some of his scholarship, and it is empirically solid, and likely will appear in a “five star” journal soon.

Finally, having Andrew Hardy and Nguyễn Tiến Đông present on their collaborative work is entirely appropriate. They are doing good work that meets “international” standards no matter which “international” world one is from.

It is interesting that North America is not represented in this group. In terms of the production of academic scholarship, I think North America has played a pretty big role since World War II. Is there no interest in Vietnam to “integrate” with that world of scholarship?

Australia is also absent, but its scholars certainly contribute much to the international world of scholarship, and many of its universities are very much integrated with the world of the Shanghai Jiao Tong rankings, etc.

So in the end I’m left confused. What exactly is the field of historical scholarship in Vietnam supposed to be integrating with? Is it succeeding in doing so?