Christophe Robert

Visualizing the invisible: Covid-19 Pandemic seasons in Saigon

Date & Time

25.4.2023, 11:30 CET


Trainee Centre 


The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted daily life in Vietnam and Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City in ways that diverged from reporting in Vietnamese and foreign media. Images of empty streets with no traffic became features of Western reporting and were mimicked by Vietnamese media. Yet, in alleyways and smaller streets, life went on. Through a sequence of images of street scenes and Covid-related signage, I discuss ethnographically the importance of the informal sector for providing the basic necessities of life in the city. This is especially true for the basic provision and sale of food. Images of street markets show the key roles of women to ensure these essential tasks were not disrupted during the pandemic. This informal sector work, like the role of women in society in particular, is rendered invisible, considered routine and habitual. The sudden disruption from Covid-19 brought into view daily patterns of life and work, and placed them temporarily in a new light.


Christophe Robert has been conducting field research and consulting projects in Vietnam since the late 1990s on youth education, media, and consumer culture. He currently teaches at Loyola University Chicago – Vietnam Center. He was previously Director of Qualitative Research for Cimigo Vietnam, a strategy consultancy. He received his PhD in sociocultural anthropology from Cornell University in 2005. He taught in the Anthropology Department at Cornell University, at Princeton University’s Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS), Yale University’s Council on Southeast Asia Studies, and in the International and Asian Studies Department at City University, Hong Kong. He has also worked with social sector organizations such as Save the Children-UK, ENDA, and DRD in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.