substantial political change. Contrary to the idea that theinternet will automatically enhance democracy and plural-ism, because of greater information ﬂows, the VCP hasmanaged to implement measures of ﬂexible control overthe internet that allow the internet to operate relativelyunrestricted for the most part, but enable powerful ele-ments in the state bureaucracy to restrict internet uses, if they consider their hegemony under threat.Cyberspace has often been considered a tool for enhanc-ing democratic participation in society due to greater infor-mation ﬂows and access to communication. It has alsobeen considered a space through which the territorialboundaries of physical spaces could be rendered obsolete,because of the possibility of instantaneous communicationamongst many actors over large distances and across bor-ders. However, for example the internet, as an essentialpart of cyberspace, requires a substantial infrastructurethat is part of physical space and is always connected orbound to speciﬁc places and territories. The volume of communication on the internet makes it impossible forthe Vietnamese state to control all aspects of the net, butthere are measures
that allow control over unde-sired forms of communication within the territory of thenation state. Yet, no form of control is permanent or uni-versal, but applied ﬂexibly when political policing seemsnecessary to protect the hegemony and power of the gov-erning Communist Party.Ju¨rgen Habermas’s
theory of communicative action
andhis concept of an ethical discourse are applied in this paperas a guide to examining the internet as a mechanism of afree, fair and unrestricted public debate that will enhancepolitical participation and equal access to institutions insociety. Michel Foucault’s analysis of
serves as a theoretical tool of analysis to examine the powerrelations that shape the public debate and the governanceof the internet in Vietnam. The work of the two thinkersis used to contrast what could be achieved through theinternet and what is happening in the speciﬁc instance of Vietnam. While this paper is a case study of Vietnam, thelarger concepts may apply to various political contexts,including liberal western democracies.Following a review of the theories, the paper gives abrief historical overview of Vietnam and the developmentof the internet speciﬁcally. It then analyses policies regard-ing internet infrastructure, content, diﬀusion and control.This analysis is based on the review of policy documents,including government decrees, as well as news storiesretrieved through a comprehensive search of English lan-guage publications in Vietnam using the database Factiva.
Some publications were included in the database for only ashort period of time. Articles from the
, forexample, only appeared, if published during a two monthperiod in the spring of 1997 and only articles from the
Viet-nam Economic Times
that were published between April1997 and January 1999 were included. The three publica-tions that yielded the largest number of downloaded newsstories are therefore, the
Vietnam Investment Review
Viet-nam News Agency Bulletin
Vietnam News Brief Service
.All sources are published in Vietnam, which means they areunder the inﬂuence of the Vietnamese state and are likelyundergoing some form of censorship or at least editorialcontrol. Given their publication in English they are proba-bly targeted towards a non-Vietnamese audience and pub-lished, at least partly and certainly in the case of the
Vietnam Investment Review
, with the intention of attractingforeign investment as well as portraying Vietnam positivelyin political terms. However, the
Vietnam News Brief Service
provides a daily summary of domestic issues covered in theVietnamese press, focusing on banking, ﬁnancing, invest-ment and trade. Although the selection of stories fromthe Vietnamese press is likely made with speciﬁc but notstated intentions, this source covered some viewpointsnot given in the other publications. The
Vietnam NewsAgency Bulletin
covers the ongoing newsreleases by thecountry’s state-owned oﬃcial news agency.
2. Social theory
The theoretical treatments of discourse analysis andpower by both Michel Foucault and Ju¨rgen Habermashave been instrumental for many aspects of social scienceresearch and have both been employed in research onInformation Systems, ICTs and Cyberspace (see e.g.Min-gers and Willcocks, 2004; Dodge and Kitchin, 2005). Thereis, however, a tension between the normative and the real,i.e. between what should be and what is, in the combinedwork of the two thinkers (Flyvbjerg, 1998).Habermas’s work on
suggests that members in a society should engagein a rational and ethical discourse of all aspects of publiclife to arrive at the best possible understanding and ﬁndthe best possible decisions in response to collective chal-lenges. Habermas uses the word ‘discourse’, which in thiscontext needs to be interpreted as an open ended debate(cf.Klein and Huynh, 2004, p. 187). The rules for thisdiscourse have to be provided by a higher authority forwhich Habermas suggests the writing of constitutions.With respect to process Habermas favours a top-downapproach, i.e. a normative provision of the rules for thisrational and ethical discourse in the form of a constitutionand laws. With respect to content, on the contrary, he sup-ports bottom-up approaches, in which truth is not a given,but emerges out of contributions by the participants in spe-ciﬁc situations (Flyvbjerg, 1998, p. 214). Constitutions,however, are without value for the formation of such a dis-course, if citizens have not accustomed themselves to the
Dow Jones Reuters Business Interactive LLC.
I spent 2 years in Vietnam from 2002 to 2004. During this time I livedwithin Vietnamese society and worked with Vietnamese institutions, whichdoes not directly contribute to speciﬁc details of this paper, but isinvaluable in putting information into perspective.
B. Surborg / Geoforum 39 (2008) 344–357