Accepted paper:

Fate and luck in the marketplace: strategies and perceptions of entrepreneurial success among Vietnamese small-scale traders


Kirsten Endres (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)

Paper short abstract:

The paper examines the interlinkages between the economic sphere and ideas of fate and luck in the Vietnamese marketplace by analyzing how Vietnamese small-scale traders narratively construct their success in the marketplace as part of a person’s fate decreed by heaven.

Paper long abstract:

The Vietnamese 'bazaar economy' is largely dominated by small-scale traders for whom capital is in short supply, prices (as well as taxes and laws) are negotiable, and profits depend on chance and rather than on entrepreneurial skills. Whereas small-traders don't deny that one needs to work hard in order to be prosper, the ways in which economic success is conceptually framed reveal that discipline, rational calculation, and personal skills are very much downplayed. Instead, a person's propensity for trade and the wealth generated by it are narratively constructed as part of a person's fate decreed by heaven. Moreover, a trader's success in business is referred to as lộc - a key concept that relates to good luck, fate-fortune, and divine benevolence. Lộc may be secured by moral virtue, enhanced by ritual practice, reciprocated in ritual exchange, distributed among kin, and transferred to future generations. Drawing on six months of fieldwork, this paper first examines the everyday economic strategies employed by Kinh (ethnic majority) market vendors in order to avoid risks and sell their wares profitably. Second, I investigate how entrepreneurial success is perceived (and challenged) within the wider framework of social and moral norms, beliefs, sentiments and attitudes that inform trade-related practices. I argue that an analysis of the complex web of interlinkages between the economic sphere and the forces of fate and luck may bring fruitful insights to our understanding of local economic practices and dynamics, the moral implications of wealth, and ideas about value creation and human agency.

panel P092
Destiny, fate, predestination: ethnographies of changing forms of political and intimate life