This article situates localized Vietnamese practices of geomancy within the broader history of land-use right reforms in the postreform era. On the immediate level, geomancy appears to represent individualized attempts to reconstruct private homes and cultivate personal landscapes—a seemingly bottom-up phenomenon. Situating these seemingly individualized practices within the larger social, political, legal, and economic landscape, however, shows that they cannot be decoupled from top-down processes driving the privatization of property relations. Combining thick description with a critical study of the structures impinging on Vietnamese real estate markets shows that seemingly bottom-up challenges to the state are in fact linked to much more top-down dynamics. The case of geomancy shows that analysis of individual actions must always pay attention to the way such actions are often linked to pathways of power that flow up, down, and sideways. While Vietnamese market-oriented socialism is not always described as neoliberal, this article shows that the anthropological critique of neoliberalism offers an important model and method for understanding the situated context of geomancy within the larger transformations gripping Vietnam today.


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pp. 405-434
Launched on MUSE
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