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Who, what, and how we fear reflects who we are. In less than half a century, people in Vietnam have gone from fearing bombing raids, political persecution, and starvation to worrying about decisions over the best career path or cell phone plan. This shift in the landscape of people’s anxieties is the result of economic policies that made Vietnam the second-fastest-growing economy in the world and a triumph of late capitalist development. Yet as much as people marvel at the speed of progress, all this change can be difficult to handle.
A Life of Worry unpacks an ethnographic puzzle. What accounts for the simultaneous rise of economic prosperity and anxiety among Ho Chi Minh City’s middle class? The social context of anxiety in Vietnam is layered within the development of advanced capitalism, the history of the medical and psychological sciences, and new ways of drawing the line between self and society. At a time when people around the world are turning to the pharmaceutical and wellness industries to soothe their troubled minds, it is worth considering the social and political dynamics that make the promises of these industries so appealing.