Social Organization. Vietnamese social organization entails complex interaction between two contradictory sets of ideas. Traditionally, individual Vietnamese have been firmly embedded in powerful corporate groups, first and foremost in a family. A family was part of a lineage and of a village. Villages were aggregated into the state through a national civil service. Within families, lineages, and villages a strict, male-dominant hierarchy was common. These biases persist in Vietnamese society. Relative age, rank, titles, degrees, and other status markers remain significant determinants of attitudes and behavior in social interaction. Yet at each level a distinct set of more open and egalitarian institutions has always been present: bilateral family ties, mutual aid groups, shamanistic cults, and Buddhist practices. Situational shifting between these two logically contradictory but on the whole functionally complementary domains at every level has been and to a large extent remains the essence of Vietnamese social organization. In recent decades state ideology and legal codes have weakened the strength of traditional social groupings and hierarchies; but the new Socialist men and women and the new Socialist society envisioned by state planners since 1955 in the north and 1975 in the south remain more of an ideal than an actuality as older patterns reemerge in new forms. Vietnamese social organization is changing, but the extent and precise nature of change is still unclear and unevenly distributed from region to region.
Political Organization. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is a Communist state divided into thirty-nine provinces and three autonomous municipalities. Provinces are divided into districts, districts into villages and townships. Each such unit has its own People's Council, the main public organ of state authority, and a People's Committee, the executive agent of the People's Council and the major administrative body. The Communist party of Vietnam plays a major role in all spheres at all levels, however, imposing parameters of discourse and action and setting social and economic goals. The Communist party is designated by the constitution to be the "sole force leading the state and society," and the executive branch of government is virtually an extension of the Central Committee of the party.
Social Control. Traditionally families, lineages, and villages could be held corporately responsible for the actions of their members. Concern for the welfare and reputation of one's family has served to constrain misbehavior. Gossip and ridicule have been important weapons for social control because of a concern for "face." Now neighborhood committees and Communist party cells and organizations monitor behavior and rebuke deviance. Self-criticism and public-criticism sessions are used to check antisocial tendencies.
Conflict. Local disputes have often involved competition for scarce water or land; historically much conflict has arisen from Vietnam's southern expansion and from resistance to encroachment upon Vietnam's territorial integrity and independence from the north. Ideological disputes have torn the country and region apart for the past fifty years, while regional rivalry has reemerged with national independence. Within groups, conflict often involves perceived slights in regard to respect behavior and relative status. Underlying such sensitivities there are both high psychological stakes and competition over the control of resources. Vietnam, with the twelfth-largest population in the world, has maintained the fourth-largest army and a large public-security apparatus, despite a weak economy.