Contested rights to mobility: informal three-wheeler delivery vehicles and precarious livelihoods in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Authors: Sarah Turner*, McGill University
Topics: Asia, Development, Urban Geography
Keywords: Vietnam, informal, mobility, exclusion, Hanoi, motorbike, injustice
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 31
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In the Socialist Republic of Vietnam wounded and disabled war veterans are considered national heroes, and have the exclusive rights to drive small three-wheeler delivery vehicles for their livelihoods. Concurrently, Vietnam’s central government and Hanoi’s municipal authorities are enthusiastically pushing ahead to create a prosperous and ‘civilized’ capital city, conceiving an urban space replete with orderliness and modernity. This state imaginary privileges fast ‘modern’ mobilities with highways, expressways, and an elevated metro system all being championed, while so called ‘traditional’ means of moving around the city, like slower informal transportation, are strongly discouraged and marginalised. Such visions threaten the livelihoods of hundreds of veteran delivery drivers (locally known as xe thương binh).

Drawing on mobilities and everyday politics literatures, and ethnographic fieldwork with xe thương binh drivers, ‘fake’ veteran drivers, customers, and city planners, I argue that the state’s discourse of modernity, along with younger ‘fake’ drivers, create specific mobility experiences, rhythms, and frictions for xe thương binh drivers. These drivers must negotiate conflicting policies curbing their mobilities, compete with more mobile and agile ‘fake drivers’, and face a growing discourse that they are obsolete and out-of-place. Nonetheless, xe thương binh drivers have reacted with subtle everyday politics tactics and inventive efforts to maintain their right to the city’s streets and alleyways. This paper thus highlights how marginalised individuals create ‘rhythms of endurance’ and push back against mobility injustices embedded in a politically socialist space.

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