This talk by Christina Schwenkel examines postcolonial projects of electrification and the impulses embodied by the industrial smokestack, one of the most enduring signs of transnational energy infrastructure on the urban landscape in Vietnam. Around the world, smokestacks stand as once spectacular, now abject relics of the promise of industry and grand infrastructural projects. And yet smokestacks continue to hold persuasive power over populations, evoking a range of affective responses to technological objects and their embedded ideologies. In postcolonial Vinh City, north central Vietnam, the possibility of generating universal electricity for the masses underpinned the collective dream worlds of socialism that formed in the face of violent, recurring disruption. Drawing on archival and ethnographic materials, including poetry to commemorate the bombing of the Soviet-built power plant, I show how emotional investments in the resilient smokestack are constitutive of enduring social collectivities and infrastructural intimacies held together by breakdown and the labor of repair both during and after the air war.
Christina Schwenkel is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Riverside and Director of the Program in Southeast Asian Studies (SEATRiP).