Vietnam's "informal public" spaces: Belonging and social distance in post-reform Hồ Chí Minh City

Earl, C.

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Earl, C. (2010). Vietnam's "informal public" spaces: Belonging and social distance in post-reform Hồ Chí Minh City. Journal of Vietnamese Studies, 5(1), 86–124.

belonging , Hồ Chí Minh City , middle class , social space , urban women

In this paper, I adopt a concept of informal public space from socialist social life as part of the language of postsocialism to explore changing uses of social space by women in contemporary Hồ Chí Minh City. Following Zdravomyslova and Voronkov, I describe the informal public as the space in culture where urbanites are able to demonstrate normality and belonging by participating in neighborhood life. I argue that the use of informal public space has been adapted to meet the new conditions of the post-reform era. Because of this, the informal public is simultaneously a space where urbanites not only can demonstrate belonging but also can mark relative social position by producing or mitigating social distance.

Main finding
The author finds that young middle-class women and aspiring urbanites demonstrate belonging and social status in informal public spaces, including street stalls, workplace canteens, and laneways outside of shops and houses. These places were used by some women as space for connecting and creating belonging among friends, family, and neighbors; and by other women as space not only for establishing belonging but also for demonstrating their higher social status through educational, work, or cultural experience. The author argues that these practices are indicative of the increasing social differentiation of postsocialist Hồ Chí Minh City.

Description of method used in the article
The researcher conducted multisited ethnographic fieldwork in Hồ Chí Minh City throughout a period of fourteen months. A primary research group of educated urban migrant women were observed and interview from 2000-2001, 2004, and 2005. The researcher maintained regular contact with residents of the Tân Định neighborhood in 2001, 2004, and 2005. The neighborhood contact provided supplementary data that helped the researcher to contextualize the data collected within a wider social milieu.

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