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Ties that Mobilize : : Migration, Native Place, and the Politics of Belonging in Urban Vietnam

  • Author(s): Karis, Timothy
  • et al.
Abstract

Based on eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in Vietnam, this dissertation explores how the material and symbolic relationships maintained by full- and part-time residents of Hanoi to native places in the Red River Delta support urban migration and life in the reform-era city. Independent migration from delta provinces to Hanoi has surged dramatically over two decades of deepening market reforms, blurring the distinctions between urban and rural lives once maintained so carefully by the Communist Party of Vietnam. Yet many urban migrants face ongoing legal and social discrimination in Hanoi, tied to an outmoded system of household registration and widespread anxieties about the "floating population" threatening to overwhelm the city. My dissertation shows how Hanoi's many "unofficial" residents navigate a system of differentiated urban citizenship by forging communities around common provincial origins, and by mobilizing native-place relationships to find employment, housing, services, and social support in the city. It also pinpoints the changing relationships to native places among more established urbanites, as strong material interdependence transforms into more symbolic expressions of "returning" through ancestor rites, periodic trips to natal villages, or membership in one of Hanoi's increasingly popular native- place associations. Rather than fading from relevance, therefore, I argue that the structures and identities of village life can assume new roles amidst rapid urbanization, as the foundations for emerging forms of urban organizing and mutual assistance, and as valuable repositories of personal and collective identity. This perspective also reveals the dialogue inherent in Vietnamese citizenship even in the absence of participatory politics, as individuals and families "vote with their feet" and influence policymaking through independent decisions to migrate and pursue new livelihoods, and as they sustain alternative conceptions of belonging to those promoted by the state

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