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Resilience and transformation in the Vietnamese marketplace

by Kirsten W. Endres, author of Market Frictions: Trade and Urbanization at the Vietnam-China Border

Market Frictions: Trade and Urbanization at the Vietnam-China Border

Markets and marketplaces have long captured the interest of economic anthropologists because of the insights they offer into the embeddedness of economic activity within wider societal, cultural, and political contexts. They study how different modes of sociality and relatedness are created, negotiated, and instrumentalized in the context of economic and political changes. They look at how participation in economic life is shaped by gender ideologies concerned with ideals of femininity/masculinity and with men’s and women’s role in family livelihood strategies. They also examine the culturally and politically specific ways in which markets are embedded in state regulation under changing configurations of political economy.


Market Frictions is the outcome of a research project on Traders, Markets, and the State in Vietnam at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle, Germany. It tells the story of a large indoor public market in Lào Cai City at the Vietnam-China border and the traders who make a living by running their stalls there. For these people, the border between Vietnam and China offers important economic opportunities that involve relations and exchanges between and among various types of actors, including vendors, customers, suppliers, brokers, creditors, as well as market-control officials, tax collectors, and law-enforcement authorities.


The “market frictions” I examine here emanate from various factors. They are inherent in the negotiation of power asymmetries and identities at a border that had for many years been characterized by armed violence and diplomatic hostility. They are at work in the “negotiation” of better economic opportunities and higher profits through bribe arrangements between traders and state officials. They arise when marketplace actors try to reconcile their “moral economies” with new or changing market and political-economy forces. And they prevail in the contestations over public retail space and imagined futures sparked by urban planning policies and their implementation on the ground.


Kirsten W. Endres is Head of the Research Group “The Political and Economic Anthropology of Southeast Asia” at the Department “Resilience and Transformation in Eurasia” of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle/S. Her previous publications include Performing the Divine. Mediums, Markets and Modernity in Urban Vietnam (NIAS Press, 2011) and the co-edited volume Traders in Motion. Identities and Contestations in the Vietnamese Marketplace (Cornell University Press, 2018).