Trading in broken things

Gendered performances and spatial practices in a northern Vietnamese rural-urban waste economy

by Minh T. N. Nguyen

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Through their deeply gendered performative and place-making practices, migrant waste traders take part in regenerating and revaluing urban space in Hanoi, Vietnam. Ethnographic research in the city and in their native rural district suggests that these practices are simultaneously strategic and contingent on the waste traders’ gender and class positions. This positioning is defined by their marginalization as rural migrants and the social ambiguity of waste, which they creatively use for their own purposes. Alongside creating value for the waste they deal in, the traders turn marginality and ambiguity into social and economic spaces essential for communal life and economy, albeit with uncertain outcomes. These spaces are not locally bounded but part of shifting trajectories of power in the global market and the urban order of Vietnam.