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Articles

Vol 9 No 2 (2022)

Social Distancing, Interaction, and (Un)crowded Public Space in Mass Transit in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

DOI
https://doi.org/10.17157/mat.9.2.5375
Submitted
February 1, 2021
Published
April 28, 2022

Abstract

Vietnam’s national response to the COVID-19 pandemic is informed by its past experiences of fighting endemic disease. This response involves an emerging biosocial paradigm of long-term adaptation to living with the co-presence of viral infections. Moving beyond traditional anthropological work, this article issues an invitation to (re)think crowds and COVID-19. I offer a path forward by engaging in an interdisciplinary dialogue, drawing inspiration from a wide range of sources to understand this unfolding problematic. Through the lens of its public transport service Saigon Bus and environmental protests, I examine how the 2020–21 ‘pandemic season’ (mùa dịch) in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest city, has transformed consciousness about crowds, ways of being in (un)crowded public spaces, and the regulation of networked public space. In doing so, this article explores existing and emerging shifts in policymaking and transformations of urban Vietnamese social relations, in the context of the emerging biosocial paradigm. The article contributes to medical anthropology by analysing the impact of pandemic prevention policies on the transformation of crowds—from being viewed as anti-state assemblies requiring social control into a form of pro-state participatory citizenship, exemplified by public engagement with networked activist communities in a ‘more-than-human’ world.