Trading Essentialism under Market Socialism
Over the past three decades, market socialist policies have revitalized commerce in Ho Chi Minh City. At the same time, officials and the public have expressed anxiety about the effects of a market economy on Vietnamese culture and individual morality. The image of the female petty trader or tiểu thương serves as a focal point for these concerns. As the city’s most famous marketplace, Bến Thành market symbolizes both the time-honored tradition of women’s trade and its backwardness in a modernizing economy. These characterizations rest on gender essentialism that ascribes the features of women traders to their supposedly underlying, natural qualities. Rather than dismiss essentialism as inaccurate stereotype, Essential Trade argues that it undergirds a meaningful worldview that enables traders to participate in a volatile political economy of appearances. In so doing, traders become recognizable, knowable subjects who agentively engage in meaningful action and interaction in the marketplace and elsewhere.
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