Essential TradeVietnamese Women in a Changing Marketplace

Essential TradeVietnamese Women in a Changing Marketplace

Ann Marie Leshkowich

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780824839901

Publisher: University of Hawai'i Press


“My husband doesn’t have a head for business,” complained Ngọc, the owner of a children’s clothing stall in Bến Thành market. “Naturally, it’s because he’s a man.” When the women who sell in Ho Chi Minh City’s iconic marketplace speak, their language suggests that activity in the market is shaped by timeless, essential truths: Vietnamese women are naturally adept at buying and selling, while men are not; Vietnamese prefer to do business with family members or through social contacts; stallholders are by nature superstitious; marketplace trading is by definition a small-scale enterprise. Based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork and life history interviews, Essential Trade looks beyond the façade of essentialism to analyze traders’ performances of expected styles of gender, kinship, social networks, spirituality, and class as processes of subject formation that have helped them to navigate four decades of volatility caused by war, socialism, and market socialism. The book provides a compelling account of a “political economy of appearances” in postwar southern Vietnam as seen through the eyes of the dynamic women who have built their businesses in the stalls of Bến Thành market and joined the ranks of Vietnam’s growing urban middle class.