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UBC Theses and Dissertations

On the edge : a history of livelihood and land politics on the margins of Hà Nội Labbé, Danielle


This dissertation takes an historical approach to explore the territorial formation processes on the near periphery of Hà Nội, the capital city of Việt Nam. It relies on methods inspired by the ethnographic tradition to document how a small locality, named Hòa Mục, has made the shift from rural village to urban neighbourhood over the course of the 20th century. The analysis centres on the evolution of villagers‟ livelihoods and land strategies in relation to the ebb and flow of state regulations and territorialization projects. Secondary literature and policy documents contextualize this micro-study and position it within the wider framework of socio-political and institutional changes in Northern Vietnam. The results are presented chronologically along four broad historical stages: i) the late colonial era (1920-1940), ii) the socialist revolutionary transformation process (1940-1960), iii) the anti-American war and subsidy era (1960-1980), and iv) the đổi mới reforms (1980-2009). By placing the periurban formation process in a longer historical context, the study shows that some territorial orders from the pre-reform period have travelled across different political-economic regimes and thus continue to influence the ongoing urban transition. This provides an important counterpoint to understandings of state policy as key determinants of urban change in contemporary Việt Nam. The discussion instead shows how local practices and norms interact with the state‟s regulatory function to shape the periurbanization process. As part of this dynamic system, the state responds in flexible ways to territorial claims from the grassroots and to emerging socio-spatial configurations on the urban edge. The case of Hòa Mục, thus indicates that the state can and does rely on systems of exceptionalism, deliberate institutional ambiguity, and the selective reproduction of informality to govern urbanization on the edge of the capital. In a context like that of Việt Nam, this suggests the need to enlarge the repertoire of what we call planning activities.

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