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Agents of Innovation: Livelihood Pathways of Migrant Vendors in Hanoi, Vietnam

Authors: Noelani Eidse*, McGill University
Topics: Urban Geography, Migration, Qualitative Research
Keywords: Livelihood pathways, street vending, entrepreneurship, ethnographic research, mobile interviews, Vietnam
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Vietnam’s Đổi Mới (economic restructuring) is said to have initiated a national ‘migration transition’ alongside the market transition that begun in the mid-1980s. In recent years, migrants are estimated to comprise between 25 and 30 per cent of Vietnam’s largest cities, with migrant numbers rising. In the periurban fringe of Hanoi—Vietnam’s capital city—a growing number of residents have been facing the loss of their land as areas previously designated for agriculture are now zoned within the city’s expanded boundaries, and are being reallocated for industrialization and urban residential use. Urban expansion has already erased numerous villages that once scattered the Hanoi’s periphery, is threatening many more, and challenges the very ability of periurban villagers to make a living, given extremely low compensation rates. Concurrently, informal networking and social capital have taken on heightened importance in providing information on urban employment opportunities, accommodation options, and even city norms and expectations. Drawing primarily upon conversational and mobile interviews with Hanoi’s migrant vendors, I explore vendors’ entry, establishment and exit strategies. I find that despite strong push factors leading migrants to the city, their decision to take up vending is based on a number of careful calculations. Furthermore, I have found that Hanoi vendor accounts of their daily, lived experiences challenge past portrayals of vendors as powerless, while shifting our attention to their ingenious business practices and savvy entrepreneurship.

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