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Saigon’s Edge

On the Margins of Ho Chi Minh City

2011
Author:

Erik Harms

Saigon’s Edge

Exploring the places where the rural and urban intersect, where many of the world’s people live

Saigon’s Edge explores life in Hóc Môn, a district that lies along a key transport corridor on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City. Erik Harms puts forth a revealing perspective on how rapid urbanization impacts people living at the intersection of rural and urban worlds and opens a window on Vietnam’s larger turn toward market socialism and the celebration of urbanization.

Sad and tragic, and at times funny and full of hope, Erik Harms shows how people live in the murky zones of the urban-rural divide, in the runoff, the debris, and wasteland of a now relentless urban industrial expansion. Saigon’s Edge is a wake up call for all of us who study the global city: socialist cities in the throes of global integration and world capitalist utopian imaginings have powerful stories to tell that we cannot afford to ignore. Saigon’s Edge sets a new benchmark on how to study the urban form, capitalist, socialist, and everything in between.

Ralph Litzinger, Duke University

Much of the world’s population inhabits the urban fringe, an area that is neither fully rural nor urban. Hóc Môn, a district that lies along a key transport corridor on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, epitomizes one of those places. In Saigon’s Edge, Erik Harms explores life in Hóc Môn, putting forth a revealing perspective on how rapid urbanization impacts the people who live at the intersection of rural and urban worlds.

Unlike the idealized Vietnamese model of urban space, Hóc Môn is between worlds, neither outside nor inside but always uncomfortably both. With particular attention to everyday social realities, Harms demonstrates how living on the margin can be both alienating and empowering, as forces that exclude its denizens from power and privilege in the inner city are used to thwart the status quo on the rural edges.

More than a local case study of urban change, Harms’s work also opens a window on Vietnam’s larger turn toward market socialism and the celebration of urbanization—transformations instructively linked to trends around the globe.

Saigon’s Edge

Erik Harms is assistant professor of anthropology at Yale University.

Saigon’s Edge

Sad and tragic, and at times funny and full of hope, Erik Harms shows how people live in the murky zones of the urban-rural divide, in the runoff, the debris, and wasteland of a now relentless urban industrial expansion. Saigon’s Edge is a wake up call for all of us who study the global city: socialist cities in the throes of global integration and world capitalist utopian imaginings have powerful stories to tell that we cannot afford to ignore. Saigon’s Edge sets a new benchmark on how to study the urban form, capitalist, socialist, and everything in between.

Ralph Litzinger, Duke University

The author’s attention to traffic and the space of roads adds to this overlooked aspect of contemporary Southeast Asia.

CHOICE

In Saigon’s Edge: On the Margins of Ho Chi Minh City, Erik Harms finely illustrates the effects of rapid urban growth on the lives of those who live on the fringe of Hồ Chí Minh City. Harms’ ethnography is a significant contribution to the fields of anthropology, urban studies, and Vietnamese studies. His sharp focus on daily life at the urban edge illuminates the pressing dangers of the developments projects. In addition, his lucid stories demonstrate ethnography’s ever-important strength in utilizing social theory to interrogate contemporary issues.

Journal of Vietnamese Studies

Wonderfully rich ethnography of life in Hoc Mon district on the edge of the city. Saigon’s Edge makes an innovative contribution to urban anthropology and to the study of Vietnam. It is a must-read for scholars interested in rural–urban social change and capitalism’s remaking of urban industrial landscapes.

American Anthropologist

This powerful integration of intensive detail and theory about lives lived on the margins of Ho Chi Minh City’s new rich, yet not part of the rural life further away, puts Harms’s work at the leading edge of the very best of the new Vietnam studies.

Journal of Asian Studies

Saigon’s Edge is a brilliant meditation on the relationship between time, space, and “progress.” The book is beautifully written in a way that makes Harm’s complex ideas accessible to students of all disciplines. The strength of Saigon’s Edge is its theoretical contribution to the way we understand the dynamics of power. Harms is gifted with a sensitivity for the nuances of power ad how they are deployed.

Asian Ethnology

Saigon’s Edge

Acknowledgments
Glossary
Introduction: Saigon, Inside Out
Part I. Social Edginess
1. Bittersweet Transitions: Urbanization on the Fringe of the City
2. Power and Exclusion on the Edge: The Conflation of Rural and Urban Spaces
Part II. Space, Time, and Urban Expansion
3. Future Orientations in the Country of Memory: Social Conceptions of Time
4. Negotiating Time and Space: Household, Labor, Land, and Movement
Part III. Realizing the Ideal
5. The Road to Paradise: Building the Trans-Asia Highway
6. The Problem of Urban Civilization on Saigon’s Edge
Conclusion: What Edges Do
Notes
Bibliography
Index