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Material Symbolism on Saigon's Edge: The Political-Economic and Symbolic Transformation of Hô Chí Minh City's Periurban Zones

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Cities and their fringes are both symbolic and material, imbued with subjective meanings as well as objective physical attributes. In this paper, I show how the physical and social transformation of periurban space in Hô Chí Minh City emerges from and also contributes to a dynamic interaction between symbolic understandings of space as well as material, political economic forces that transform space in concrete ways. On the symbolic level, I show how conceptions of “inside” versus “outside” as well as rural versus urban play into Vietnamese meaning systems that lend a sense of conceptual order and coherence to the larger organization of urban space. In rapidly urbanizing contexts like Hô Chí Minh City, the periurban fringe is dynamic and ever-changing, and the political-economic forces of real-estate speculation, city planning and infrastructure development interact with Vietnamese notions of what an ideal city might look like. This paper shows how periurban spaces in different parts of Hô Chí Minh City can best be understood as spaces of “material symbolism,” places where the material attributes of space, the political economy of development, and the symbolic meaning attributed to space all restructure each other in dialectical fashion. Just as symbolic meanings frame how residents perceive these emergent spaces, these same spaces also transform the symbolic meaning of Vietnamese cities.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2011

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