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Rights Gone Wrong on the City's Edge: Evidence from Ho Chi Minh City

September 16, 2015
12:00 PM - 01:45 PM
441 Lattimore Hall

A talk by Erik Harms on Wednesday September 16, from 12:00-1:45pm.

Light lunch will be provided.

This talk tells story of Ho Chi Minh City residents who have been evicted from their homes in order to make way for a new master-planned urban development called the Thu Thiem New Urban Zone. Facing eviction, residents mobilized a strong and unambiguous language of “rights” to support their cause. On one level, their example is an inspiring story of bravery and resistance that shows how an emerging “rights consciousness” can inspire new forms of agency and collective action. But on another level, this emergent rights consciousness has also come to operate as something of a fetish. By focusing on property value, legal documents, petitions, and other artefacts central to the expression of bureaucratic rights, residents have participated in the proliferation of abstract rights that are not in fact realized in practice. After the dust settled and the bulldozers finally retreated, these residents found themselves dispossessed from house and home. Their evictions were made final at precisely the moment that they had so forcefully managed to understand themselves as rights-bearing subjects. This suggests that the new conception of rights emerging on the edges of Vietnamese cities cannot be disentangled from the very processes fueling dispossession.

Erik Harms is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and International & Area Studies at Yale University, specializing in urban anthropology, Southeast Asia, and Vietnam.  His ethnographic research in Vietnam has focused on the social and cultural effects of rapid urbanization on the fringes of Saigon—Ho Chi Minh City.  His book, Saigon’s Edge:  On the Margins of Ho Chi Minh City (University of Minnesota Press, 2011), explores how the production of symbolic and material space intersects with Vietnamese concepts of social space, rural-urban relations, and notions of “inside” and “outside.”  He has published articles in Cultural Anthropology, American Ethnologist, City & Society, Pacific Affairs, Positions, and co-edited the book Figures of Southeast Asian Modernity (Hawaii, 2013). Harms recently completed a book manuscript about the demolition and reconstruction of the urban landscape in two of Ho Chi Minh City’s New Urban Zones, Phu My Hung and Thu Thiem.

Sponsored by the Department of Anthropology and the Humanities Project at the University of Rochester.

Category: Humanities Project Events