Sense Forcing Through Political Ideology in a Franco-Vietnamese Alliance

International Studies of Management and Organization, ISMO, Vol. 31, No. 2, pp. 84-100, 2001

17 Pages Posted: 23 May 2012  

Bertrand Venard

Audencia Nantes School of Management

Date Written: 2001


Around one third of the world’s population has been affected in recent years by the transformation of former planned economies, but the transition process has been neither easy nor similar for the various countries involved. Even the term 'transition' has been called into question for legitimizing the underlying idea of an obligatory trajectory between two clearly defined points (Csaba, 1995). Researchers have pointed to the important role played by various inertial factors that have interrupted the economic development of socialist countries (Nuti, 1996; Andreff, 1996). The heterogeneity of emergent transition outcomes has its echoes in the transition economic literature, with concepts of the mutant economy (Hanson and Teagre, 1992), the mixed economy (Lavigne, 1995) and the dual system (Kornaï, 1992).

Vietnam is typical of a dual economic system. While most communist countries were collapsing in the late 1980s, Vietnam engaged in a new economic policy of Doi Moi or the Open Door (Vu Tran Anh, 1994; Venard, 1998). However, far from the changeover from a planned economy to a market economy generating political change, the 1992 Vietnamese Constitution actually reaffirmed the essential role of the Communist Party as 'the vanguard of the working class'. As Schultz (1994, p. 46) pointed out, 'many conservative Vietnamese condemn the concept of free enterprise, the consumption mentality and materialism that drive it.'

Communism is still the cornerstone of the Vietnamese political and economic edifice (Lim and Guo, 1994; Herland, 1999), with the government and the bureaucracy both subordinate to the Party. The political bureau (Politburo), composed of high-ranking communists elected by the Central Committee of the Party, decide government policy. The Party Secretariat issues directives to Party members and directs government policy; and within the present government, the most important Ministries are in the hands of members of the Party Central Bureau: the Prime Minister, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Defense and the Interior Minister. In the same way, the National Assembly comprises 450 deputies, of whom more than 90 percent are Party members, and one third of these are not elected but 'chosen' by the government (the last elections were organized in July 1997). On a regional level, the Party either administers directly or has a very strong influence over the provinces, towns, economic zones and local administrations. Additionally, the Party has a very large say in the granting of investment licenses and in judicial matters.

The Party communicates its ideology principally through its two million members. However, other major disseminators include the State, the education system, the Army, the Police, large organizations, systems of social affiliation and direct control by the Party (e.g., the National Front) and the press, which is subject to censorship and a certain degree of journalistic self-control (Herland, 1999).

After nearly 15 years of economic transition, therefore, the Communist Party remains a very important factor in Vietnamese society, and communist ideology is present throughout economic life and organizational existence. For example, in each public company, there is a communist trade union and a Communist Party secretary. Highlighting this structural presence is not the whole story, because the use of ideology is an everyday fact that affects the nature and process of management. In other words, employees use or are confronted with communist ideology in the daily round of organizational life.

The purpose of this article is to show how ideology is used in organizations. Drawing on a particular case study, the article demonstrates specifically the various ways in which Vietnamese partners in an alliance with Western foreigners were able to use political ideology to exercise influence over the alliance. I develop a conceptual framework for examining ideology as a practical means of controlling sense-making within the case organization, as a resource, that is, for 'sense-forcing.' The article distinguishes two forms of sense-forcing, namely sense-giving and sense-manipulating, which are demonstrated with evidence from the organization under study.

The first section examines the nature of ideology as a system of ideas with a political purpose and proposes that the key issue of how ideology becomes enacted in everyday situations can be resolved by adapting concepts from the sense-making perspective. The second section briefly addresses the location of the empirical research and questions of methodology. The article then progresses to examination of the case study materials within the adopted sense-forcing framework. This illustrates first how Vietnamese managers communicate meanings for others in the alliance, and second the ways in which they shaped the social conditions of the organization in order to predispose subordinates to certain ideological understandings. These analyses lead to a conclusion.

Keywords: Vietnam, sense-making, ideology, transition economy

JEL Classification: P26, A00, F00, M00

Suggested Citation

Venard, Bertrand, Sense Forcing Through Political Ideology in a Franco-Vietnamese Alliance (2001). International Studies of Management and Organization, ISMO, Vol. 31, No. 2, pp. 84-100, 2001. Available at SSRN:

Bertrand Venard (Contact Author)

Audencia Nantes School of Management ( email )

8 route de la Jonelière, BP 31222
Nantes Cedex 3, Cedex 3 44312

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