Accepted paper:

Saigon trade-scapes: Subversive uses of mass transit in metropolitan Vietnam


Catherine Earl

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores subversive uses of mass transit as responses to post-authoritarian state restrictions on street trading. It focuses on translocations and transformations of diurnal patterns of private trade and commoditization of stigmatised bodies on a human-facilitated public bus network.

Paper long abstract:

Mass transit marks another step in the globalisation of the citizenry in metropolitan Vietnam. The development of a reliable and accessible city-wide bus network over the past decade has involved more than repairing tarmac and redesigning routes to mitigate congestion and enable circulation. As a human-facilitated transport system the Saigon Bus network has also offered employment to drivers, conductors, ticket inspectors, vehicle mechanics, fuel station attendants, office staff, among other jobs that no longer characterise mass transit elsewhere. Beyond infrastructural and material transformations the public bus system has opened up new social spaces for stranger-interaction on vehicles and at stops as well as new ways of being mobile for citizens who lack alternative transport options. This paper focuses on subversive uses of public spaces of mass transit in the context of post-war and post-reform Ho Chi Minh City, one of Southeast Asia's most rapidly urbanising regions. Drawing on my ongoing fieldwork project among undocumented migrants, upwardly mobile residents and mass transit riders, I explore trade-scapes of the public bus as an auto-anthropocene. Firstly, I examine the translocation and transformation of diurnal patterns of private small-scale trade on the mass transit network as a subversive response to state regulations that restrict street-side informal trading. Secondly, I consider the politicisation of disability and right to freedom of movement for vulnerable/shadow citizenry reflected in the commoditisation of non-normative and stigmatised bodies in mass transit trade-scapes. The paper concludes to what extent the reach of the post-authoritarian state constrains public action.

panel P106
Auto-anthropocenes: alternative uses of roads and vehicles