Currencies Of Imagination: Channeling Money And Chasing Mobility In Vietnamese Remittance Economies

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In Vietnam, international remittances are significant, estimated at around seven billion dollars annually or 11.5% of GDP. Yet beyond capital transfer, diasporic remittance economies are key nodes to witnessing an unfolding transformation of Vietnamese society through the extension of imaginations, identities, and ontological possibilities that accompany them. In this dissertation I examine the role of remittance gifting in mediating transnational kinship networks dispersed by exile and migration. Drawing on twenty months of fieldwork in Vietnam, France, and the United States, I argue that long distance international gift exchanges in the neoliberal political economy juxtapose the mobility of remittance financial flows against the confines of state bound bodies. In this contradiction is revealed a creative space for emergent social imaginaries that disrupt local structures and contingencies of desire and expectation. Furthermore, the particular characteristics of remittance gift monetary mediums and channels in a global economy, including transnational mobility and exchangeable value, affect the relationships, aspirations, and identities of the exchange participants. I trace a genealogy of how this phenomenon has shifted through changing remittance forms and transfer channels, from material and black market forms to formal bank and money service transfers. Significant transformations in the social and institutional relations among givers, receivers, and remittance facilitators accompany each of these shifts, illustrating that the socio-cultural work of remittances extends far beyond the economic realm they are usually consigned to. Remittance economies link participants to alternative social terrains through the intimacies of exchange. They impact recipients through the transfer of capital, but also via the interactions of familiar bodies and unfamiliar subjectivities. The imaginaries emerging from remittance exchange offer insight into not only the already widely examined processes of collective diaspora identity formation, but also the identities of those who never left, yet whose spatial and social identities and aspirations are inevitably expanded, challenged, and emplaced by their contingency on and imagined identification with the diasporic Other. The classic question of the gift's social role in anthropology is thus revisited in a globalized world in which the gift's long distance mobility transforms its representations and significance among the networks that exchange and encounter it.

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Transnationalism; Diaspora; Migration; Economic Anthropology; Remittances; Mobility; Exchange; Gifts; Imaginaries


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Willford, Andrew C.

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Siegel, James T
Taylor, Keith Weller
Feldman, Shelley

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Ph. D., Anthropology

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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