Arve Hansen: Transport in transition: Doi moi and the consumption of cars and motorbikes in Hanoi

In Journal of Consumer Culture


The rapid developments in Vietnam since the economic reforms (doi moi) initiated in 1986 have led to a transformation of urban mobility. In less than 20 years, motorbike ownership in the country increased tenfold, and there are now 4 million motorbikes in Hanoi alone. While the two-wheelers dominate traffic, car ownership has increased rapidly in the last decade. This article approaches the consumption of cars and motorbikes in the Vietnamese capital from a social practice theory perspective. It particularly emphasises material conditions for practices in terms of systems of provision, available technology and infrastructure. This emphasis, the article argues, is necessary to account for large-scale changes in consumption in a context of rapid economic development. These conditions, however, have co-evolved with mobility practices and the local geography of consumption. Private cars in many ways represent a break with the dominant two-wheeled conditions and practices, but bring along social distinction, safety and comfort. In turn, a new automobility regime is emerging in the outskirts of Hanoi. The article analyses these material, social and bodily pillars of practices, and based on fieldwork in Hanoi approaches the changing urban mobility in the interplay between development and everyday life.

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Published Sep. 1, 2015 11:48 AM