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Vatthana Pholsena graduated from the Institut d’Études Politiques (Institute of Political Studies) in Grenoble, France in 1997, before moving to the U.K. to pursue her Ph.D. at the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Hull. She took up a position as Assistant Professor in the Southeast Asian Studies Programme at the National University of Singapore in 2004. She was recruited into the CNRS (French National Centre for Scientific Research) as a research fellow in 2007. In 2011, she was posted to IRASEC (Research Institute on Contemporary Southeast Asia), an institution run jointly by the CNRS and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in Bangkok. She is currently based at the Department of Southeast Asian Studies at NUS as an Associate Professor.

Position and affiliation

Research Fellow, CNRS,
Centre Asie du Sud-Est (CASE), Paris, France.

Political Science, History
Field of specialty

State formation and social change in borderland regions (Laos-Vietnam); social history of the Vietnam and Cold Wars; history and memory.
Research projets

1. War Violence: Socio-Cultural Approaches to Research into War in Contemporary Asia
While politics, diplomacy, and military operations have their place in my work, what interests me most are the methodological, theoretical, and analytical ways in which the scholar can better understand how Asian societies, civilians, and soldiers experienced warfare during the 20th century in Indochina. My work focuses in particular on the populations that lived in the vicinity of the so-called Ho Chi Minh Trail in central and southern Laos and explores their varied and complex experiences of war. My research project more broadly aims at reconstituting a social history of the war in these areas through the study of collective memories and personal trajectories of those who survived the war. Very little is known about the men and women who stayed ‘behind’ in the zones of conflict. The Central Highlands of Vietnam, as well as central and southern Laos – a stronghold of the Viet-Minh during the First Indochina War – were seen as being of crucial strategic importance for the control of Indochina by the Communists, the French and, later on, the Americans. Yet, the history of these areas during this era of conflict is arguably one of the least studied aspects of the Vietnam War.

2. Revisiting ethnicity and frontiers in the Southeast Asian Massif
Contrary to the commonly held views on state policies and ideology in Mainland Southeast Asia, I contend that an encounter between ‘the state’ and ‘the people’ does not necessarily always entail the imposition of the former’s rules and administrative apparatus on the latter’s lives. I argue that some residents straddling the border between southern Laos and central Vietnam – peasants and local state agents, in particular – are interacting with, and accommodating, one another inside a socio-political space or “middle ground” wherein compromise and negotiation often emerge as more common options than assimilation, confrontation, or flight. Such a “middle ground” therefore constitutes a much more fluid and dynamic social and political space than has previously been acknowledged in the literature.
Curriculum Vitae


Foreign languages

English, lao, thaï