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Upland Transformations in Vietnam

Thomas Sikor, Nghiem Phuong Tuyen, Jennifer Sowerwine and Jeff Romm

Publication Year: 2011

Upland Transformations in Vietnam considers the effects of economic development, authority formation and landscape change on the country's "uplands". By positioning the uplands as an integral part of political, economic and cultural processes at the national and international levels, the book shatters stereotypes of upland regions as a separate ethnic and biophysical realm, and calls into question the assumptions that have informed research on upland areas and post-socialist transitions, and government policy for these regions. Movements from customary to state authority or from a subsistence to a commoditized economy are neither automatic nor uniform. The case studies in this book show that events in Vietnam's uplands mirror the country's cultures, organization, landscapes and larger political economy. Negotiations over authority and economy in the uplands recursively contribute to larger processes constituting the Vietnamese state and generating social inequalities. The Vietnamese experience thus provides valuable lessons applicable to research on upland regions and post-socialist transformations in other parts of the world. The book features work by young Vietnamese and foreign scholars deeply engaged with research on upland livelihoods and ecosystems in Vietnam. These emerging experts present cutty-edge analyses of negotiations over land, forest politics, trade relations, tourism, migration, social differentiation and cultural imaginaries based on research conducted in all major upland regions of Vietnam, including the Northern Mountains, the Truong Son Mountains and the Central Highlands.

Published by: NUS Press Pte Ltd

Title Page, Copyright

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List of Figures

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p. vii-vii

List of Tables

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p. viii-viii

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pp. ix-x

The present volume originated from a workshop on “Montane Choices and Outcomes: Contemporary Transformations of Vietnam’s Uplands” held in Hanoi in January 2007. The workshop offered an inspiring forum bringing together an exciting group of emergent scholars—from Vietnam and elsewhere—on Vietnam’s uplands. It provided the inspiration for this volume and many of the ideas that have come to shape it. We thank the ...

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Introduction: Opening Boundaries

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pp. 1-24

Scholarship has long treated Vietnam’s uplands (vùng cao) as a separate realm defined by elevation. The underlying premises are that there is an essential difference between uplands and lowlands, and that differences in socio-economic conditions are due to topographic differences indicated by elevation above sea level. In other words, scholarship on Vietnam has ...

Historical Constitution of the Uplands

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1. A View from the Mountains: A Critical History of Lowlander-Highlander Relations in Vietnam

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pp. 27-50

In the summer of 1996, when I worked as programme officer for the Ford Foundation in Vietnam, I met with Dr Hoàng Xuân Tý, who wanted to discuss a project proposal about “indigenous technical knowledge” among Upland minorities in Vietnam. A soil scientist working for the Forest Science Institute of Vietnam in Từ Liêm, Hanoi, Dr Tý explained why he ...

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2. The Politics of Highland Landscapes in Vietnamese Statecraft: (Re)Framing the Dominant Environmental Imaginary

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pp. 51-72

Since colonial times, the highlands of Vietnam have been characterized in varying degrees as remote, isolated and barren, inhabited by “backward” and “uncivilized” people, in contrast to the fertile, “civilized” plains inhabited by the “advanced” Kinh civilization.1 This lowland:highland discourse or environmental imaginary is not unique to Vietnam but exists ...

Authority and the State

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3. Who Should Manage the Land?: Common Property and Community Responses in Vietnam’s Shifting Uplands

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pp. 75-91

Changing concepts of ownership and usufruct rights to land can have profound consequences for efforts to improve agricultural productivity, redistribute agrarian wealth, and conserve land-based resources such as forests—all problems that state planners of Vietnam’s uplands have had to deal with in recent years. In Vietnam, changing rules over landownership, ...

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4. “Forest Thieves”: State Resource Policies, Market Forces, Struggles over Livelihood and Meanings of Nature in a Northwestern Valley of Vietnam

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pp. 92-114

“Forest Ranger: A Dangerous Job” was the title of a talk show broadcast on the Vietnamese national television station VTV1 on 12 September 2005. It was part of the series Người đương thời [Contemporary People], in which celebrated Vietnamese people are invited to talk about their roles in solving ongoing issues in contemporary Vietnamese society. ...

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5. Geographical Settings, Government Policies and Market Forces in the Uplands of Nghệ An

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pp. 115-145

From the late 1970s until 2002, land law reforms in Vietnam focused on the allocation of land rights to individuals and individual households through the distribution of agricultural and forestland certificates. Previous to this, from the time of independence in the north, all rights to land legally belonged to the state. In the 1960s, 1970s and into the 1980s, land ...

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6. Land Allocations in Vietnam’s Uplands: Negotiating Property and Authority

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pp. 146-162

Vietnam’s nationwide programme of land allocation has generated a sizable body of research in recent years. As discussed in the introduction to this book, the research has included field studies on local-level land allocations in the Northern Mountain Region, Central Coast and Central Highlands. It has considered the effects of land allocation on local ...

Production and Exchange

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7. Market Relations in the Northern Uplands of Vietnam

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pp. 165-182

The term “market network” refers to the way in which supply and demand interact, in a particular social and historical context, to price commodities and the means of their production. It also refers to social relations (social strata) or the powers of exchanging parties that determine the function of the market system (Smith 1977). In such unequal relationships, whoever ...

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8. The Cultural Politics of Agrarian Change in the Highlands of Ba Vì, Vietnam

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pp. 183-207

Since the late 1980s, the Vietnamese government has launched numerous initiatives to alleviate poverty and increase forest cover in mountainous areas through dual processes of decentralization of agricultural and forestry lands and market liberalization. In order to increase productivity and promote economic and ecological stability in the highlands, the ...

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9. The Development of a Land Market in the Uplands of Vietnam

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pp. 208-227

This chapter focuses on the market for garden land of the Dao1 people in Sổ village of Ba Vì commune, the place described by Jennifer Sowerwine in Chapter 8 of this volume. In 2003 the village was characterized by simple houses equipped with basic furniture and amenities. Villagers were poor, deriving their livelihood mainly from swidden crops grown in ...

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10. “Stretched Livelihoods”: Social and Economic Connections between the Red River Delta and the Central Highlands

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pp. 228-243

People, and indeed the places in which they live—which may be categorized along territorial, environmental and/or ethnic lines—do not exist as isolated social actors or arenas. Analyzing social and economic change in one geographic area or within one ethnic group therefore necessitates a view of the region within its wider context and linkages ...

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11. Changing Labour Relations in a Hmong Village in Sa Pa, Northwestern Vietnam

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pp. 244-258

Since the beginning of the 1990s, the Hmong2 in Lao Chải village, located in Sa Pa District, in Vietnam’s northwestern province of Lào Cai, have seen great shifts in their traditional economic systems. New forms of family, gender and labour relations that are not traditionally Hmong have also emerged. Many of these changes can be attributed to an intensifying ...

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Postscript: Towards a Conjunctural Analysis

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pp. 259-261

This book offers rich resources for thinking about the uplands in conjunctural terms. I have in mind the kind of analysis proposed by the geographer Doreen Massey, who argues for an understanding of the specificity of a place not as an expression of its essence, but rather as the outcome of the ways it has been “constructed out of a particular constellation of relations, ...


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pp. 262-291


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pp. 292-294


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pp. 295-299

E-ISBN-13: 9789971696139
Print-ISBN-13: 9789971695149

Page Count: 312
Illustrations: 25
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: New

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Subject Headings

  • Uplands -- Economic aspects -- Vietnam.
  • Uplands -- Political aspects -- Vietnam.
  • Uplands -- Social aspects -- Vietnam.
  • Land tenure -- Vietnam.
  • Forest policy -- Vietnam.
  • Land reform -- Vietnam.
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