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Making a Living the Hmong Way: An Actor-Oriented Livelihoods Approach to Everyday Politics and Resistance in Upland Vietnam

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Ethnic minority households in upland northern Vietnam are shaping culturally appropriate rural livelihoods in highly pragmatic ways, as they negotiate the everyday realities of economic liberalization, intertwined with centralized and authoritarian socialist political structures. Notions of “social interface” from actor-oriented analyses, everyday politics, and covert forms of everyday resistance provide a heuristic device to understand the nuanced decision-making processes underlying such livelihoods. Ethnographic data reveal how Hmong ethnic minority individuals and households augment agricultural livelihoods by navigating new economic opportunities, while also resisting unwanted reliance on the market. Based in Sa Pa district, Lào Cai province, the research in this article identifies three particular diversification strategies—cardamom cultivation, textile trade, and tourism trekking—that currently form the foremost cash component of Hmong livelihoods that are otherwise largely subsistence based. Livelihood decision-making processes among these upland rural dwellers are mediated by a complex and multifaceted social interface involving state policy, the actions of local officials, and ethnically embedded social relations, negotiations, and struggles that, in turn, are shaped by everyday politics. The case points to the value of incorporating such findings into alternative discourses of upland development to support the design of more appropriate livelihood and development policies.

Keywords: Hmong; Vietnam; actor-oriented approach; enfoque centrado en el actor; everyday politics and resistance; livelihoods; medios de subsistencia; política cotidiana y resistencia

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography,McGill University,

Publication date: 2012-03-01

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