Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Anthropology

First Advisor

Harms, Erik

Abstract

In Mễ Trì village on the Western peri-urban edge of Hanoi, Vietnam, landless rice farmers no longer tend to rice paddy fields. Instead, many have converted 40 square meters of their residential space into a small factory for producing an artisanal rice product called cốm (young rice). This small village-based industry has garnered national demand for the product, drawing the attention of central policymakers who want to preserve the craft as a cultural relic of Hanoi. But without land to cultivate the rice inputs, young rice production is largely driven by the outsourcing of grains, the use of inventive new machinery, and most notably, widespread sentiments of pride and passion in the village craft. Based on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Mễ Trì village between July 2017 and December 2018, this dissertation examines the assemblages of rural-urban spaces that emerge out of the convergence of mega-city master plans, foreign investment, heritage preservation, and the everyday livelihood practices of those living and working in the changing urban fringe. It attends to competing discourses on Vietnam’s rural spaces as well as the dialogic practices between state actors and local cốm producers, which have allowed agrarian traditions to re-emerge amidst urban development. In this dissertation, I argue that Mễ Trì’s practices of adaptation through craft production demonstrate a politics of resilience, which has both material and symbolic implications. Craft production not only provides people with a transitional livelihood in their post-agrarian landscape, but it has also served as an important cultural tool and resource that villagers use in finding and cultivating meaningful identities amidst society’s contemporary urban-oriented shifts. Stories about Mễ Trì’s acts of resilience through cốm production narrate the lived experiences of land use and social transformation of a village that lies, both empirically as well as conceptually, at the tenuous intersection between a capital mega-city’s dual projects of urban civilization (văn minh đô thị) and “heritage” protection. In doing so, it provides an ethnographic insight into the shifting but continually significant place of agrarian-based cultures and livelihoods in shaping the broader processes of urban-oriented economic and land use change in Hanoi, with implications for other Asian contexts.

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