Accepted Paper:

Producing formality, redeveloping the marketplace: reflections from northern Vietnam  

Author:

Esther Horat (University of Zurich)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper, I will shed light on how formalisation is buttressed by various extralegal practices, paying particular attention to how and which of these practices support respectively challenge the current developments of restructuring the marketplace in a peri-urban village in northern Vietnam.

Paper long abstract:

This paper looks closely at a variety of coexisting and mutually constitutive practices that question a strict separation between the formal vs. informal sector and instead point to the constructedness of this dichotomies. Based on long-term anthropological research on a marketplace in a peri-urban village in northern Vietnam, I argue that traders and state officials employ a mix of strategies of the legal-extralegal spectrum.

Although the launch of the Open Door Policy in the late 1980s is often considered the start of a liberal economy, it does not necessarily mean that the state interferes minimally or that economic decisions are transparent. In fact, while the economic sector has seen a whole set of new regulations in the last two and a half decades, corruption spread in the context of the country's economic growth. Marketplaces are a target for the modernising vision of the Vietnamese state and are undergoing redevelopment, often in combinantion with a change of ownership. Although in Vietnam the trend towards privatisation implies formalisation, informal and illegal practices are ubiquitous. For instance, "the legal," or "formal," that is produced through rather vaguely formulated regulations, gives way to illicit actions, such as expropriating land for new market projects, and legitimises processes—like marketisation—that oppose the very principle of social justice preeminant in state campaigns. I will shed light on how formalisation is buttressed by various extralegal practices, paying particular attention to how and which of these practices support respectively challenge the current developments of restructuring the marketplace.

Panel P148
Ethnographic explorations of formal–informal linkages in contemporary global economy and politics