Paper short abstract:
Drawing on fieldwork on Vietnamese traders in commodity markets in Odessa, the paper considers the role shipping containers play in everyday market engagements, highlighting the ways in which such steel boxes effect the 'containment' of diasporic networks within prescribed market and social domains.
Paper long abstract:
Drawing on ethnographic research on Vietnamese traders operating in wholesale markets in Odessa, the paper considers the role shipping containers play in quotidian market engagements, highlighting the ways in which cargo boxes - invented to facilitate global commercial flows - are effecting the 'containment' of diasporic trading networks within prescribed market and social domains.
In the Black Sea port of Odessa, shipping containers play a crucial part in the city's social life, facilitating global flows of goods. In a large outdoor trade fair in the city outskirts, containers serve a multitude of purposes. Positioned around the market as alternative to permanent fixtures, steel boxes serve as principal spaces for trade and sociality. Employed as box-like shops, containers are used for displaying and storing merchandise, and conducting daily transactions. Stacked up in two-storey rows, containers arrange market space into lanes dealing in specific types of commodity, which are the preserve of particular nationalities, thus configuring the marketplace into ethnic enclaves. The dark, lockable quarters of containers often serve as secure places where traders retreat to hide or sleep, hence fencing in goods and people.
Focusing on Vietnamese traders specialising in clothing and currency trade, the paper reflects on the effects containers have on trading and life matters. It looks at how containers allow for spatially distributed social interactions, keeping trading folk attached to circumscribed domains in the marketplace, where they find security and wealth making opportunities that are otherwise inaccessible to 'foreigners' in the city.
Containers / Containment