Institutional adaptation to environmental risk under the transition in Vietnam

W. Neil Adger

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178 Citations (Scopus)


This paper develops a theoretical perspective on institutional adaptation to social vulnerability to environmental risks. Institutions encompass both socialized ways of interacting and underlying worldviews, as well as structures and organizations that influence resource allocation. The adaptation of institutions that mediate vulnerability to environmental change can be observed by examining actual resource allocations and the processes of decisionmaking and nondecisionmaking, as well as by examining changing perceptions of vulnerability. Institutional adaptation is evaluated in Nam Dinh Province in northern Vietnam, a country presently undergoing rapid economic and political transition. The case study highlights local-level institutional adaptation to environmental risks associated with flooding and typhoon impacts in the coastal environment. It is carried out through fieldwork involving qualitative household surveys and interviewing to elicit present and recent coping and adaptation strategies in the context of rapid changes in property rights and economic circumstances. Although Vietnam’s transition from state central planning is often heralded as a macroeconomic success story, this study argues that the transition has had negative impacts on social vulnerability. A decrease in collective action for risk management by state institutions is exacerbated by inertia in some aspects of the decentralized state planning system, while the parallel spontaneous reemergence of civil institutions forms a counterbalancing institutional adaptation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)738-758
Number of pages21
JournalAnnals of the Association of American Geographers
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2000

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