15 July 2014 – Street trading, migrants and the luxury of sociality

I have just been reading two quite different articles that feature street trading in fast-growing cities. The first is about Beijing, China and the second, about Hanoi, Vietnam. Both articles tackle the impacts of high-speed growth and urban re-development on formal/informal and migrant street traders. The first, written by Stephanie Hemelryk Donald (Beijing time, Black Snow and magnificent Chaoyang: sociality, markets and temporal shift in China’s capital –Theory, Culture & Society December 2011 vol. 28 no. 7-8 321-339) is based on an extended review of Michael Dutton’s Beijing Time (2008). The second, written by Sarah Turner and Laura Schoenberger (Street vendor livelihoods and everyday politics in Hanoi, Vietnam: the Seeds of a diverse economy? – Urban Studies 49(5) 1027–1044, April 2012) examines whether street vendors and itinerant traders in Hanoi represent what is referred to as a ‘diverse’ or alternative economy.

In these contexts, traders are increasingly referred to as ‘obsolete’ and old-fashioned – even traffic hazards – and both articles discuss how they have been moved out of the city centres. In Beijing, the rag ‘market’ operates well beyond the limits of the city’s developed centre. In Hanoi, national and local governments’ desire to create a modern, ‘civilized’ capital has also pushed street vendors outside the capital’s centre. Ideas of ‘sociality’, frequently regarded as an implicit part of market trading, are different. In Beijing, there is tacit acknowledgement that the marginalized, migrant rag traders cannot ‘afford any sociality’, even though Stephanie Hemelryk Donald refers to them as ‘the human face of China’s waste management systems’. In Hanoi, although social capital does come in to play, this is referred to in terms of how customers and other traders warn each other of police presence in order to avoid heavy fines. These appear to be economies of survival rather than alternative economies, with street traders battling poverty, displaced from opportunities for more lucrative livelihoods in the centres of these modernizing cities.

If you are interested in street trading – you can also check out Street Food SQUARE – a non-profit organization working towards the development and promotion of best practices of street food trade, consumption and governance worldwide. The website also features a new book: Street Food: Culture, Economy, Health and Governance (Routledge, 2014).


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