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Vietnam Without Guarantees: Consumer Attitudes in an Emergent Market Economy

This research explores how Vietnam’s embrace of capitalism and global markets has impacted consumer culture. Through ethnographic research conducted in Hanoi, Vietnam in June-August 2015, this study seeks to interrogate how the political atmosphere in Vietnam coexists with market freedoms in a country which opened its economy to the world during the 1986 Doi Moi (renovation) reforms. Vietnam now conducts a considerable amount of foreign trade with major foreign investment from countries including Japan, South Korea, and Singapore. This study emphasizes the role international relations have played in these developments as Vietnam has embraced partnerships with countries with which it was previously at war. This approach includes a self-reflexive critique of my role in the research process as a young, white American. This research engages conceptually with critical cultural studies and theories of articulation to challenge the assumed evolution of communism to capitalism within modernization theory as well as the global, homogenous spread of neoliberalism by examining how these articulations manifest in everyday life. To this end, this study seeks to explore how changing patterns of consumption brought on by open market economics are articulated with global political relationships. The analysis argues that neoliberalism is applied selectively to maintain single-party politics and an oppressive state formation, and that foreign advertising in Vietnam serves as an index of narratives of progress and economic growth. This research has significant implications for consumerism within developing countries, studies of neoliberalism, and postsocialist state formations.