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Actively cautious: Industrialization and rural livelihood choices in contemporary northern Vietnam
26/12/18 04:11PM
Lam Minh Chau. South East Asia Research, 2018

Abstract: This article uses the case of a northern Vietnamese village to explore how rural households in Asia have negotiated both the opportunities and challenges of marketization and capitalist industrial modernity. I focus on the Vietnamese state’s push to marketize village livelihoods by means of mass establishment of industrial parks comprising largely Foreign Direct Investment factories in the countryside. The state expects young villagers to abandon low-value agricultural livelihoods and treat factory work as their only livelihood strategy and the lifetime warranty of their well-being. Yet while young villagers have been responsive to new opportunities of industrial employment, they have all treated factory work in ways very different from what the state expects: merely as one of their household’s diverse portfolio of livelihood options. I argue that villagers have handled the encounter with industrial modernity in ways rarely documented in the literature on marketization in rural Asia: as ‘actively cautious’ decision-makers, who actively pursue industrial employment to improve their family’s living standards, and carefully maintain a portfolio of livelihood strategies to protect the family’s well-being from the many insecurities of the industrial workplace.

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