Learning to See the City Again: Ethnographic Visions of Gender, Class, and Space in Ho Chi Minh City

Erik Harms, Yale University

Ann Marie Leshkowich. Essential Trade: Vietnamese Women in a Changing Marketplace. University of Hawai'i Press, 2014. 272 pp. $55 (cloth), $25 (paper).

Kimberly Kay Hoang. Dealing in Desire: Asian Ascendancy, Western Decline, and the Hidden Currencies of Global Sex Work. University of California Press, 2015. 248 pp. $65 (cloth), $30 (paper/ebook).

Catherine Earl. Vietnam’s New Middle Classes: Gender, Career, City. NIAS Press, 2014. 320 pp. £50 (cloth), £18 (paper).

Annette Miae Kim. Sidewalk City: Remapping Public Space in Ho Chi Minh City. University of Chicago Press, 2015. 264 pp. $45 (cloth), $7–$36 (ebook).

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In addition to looking at gendered space, then, understanding a city requires considering the dynamic relationship between the seen and the unseen. And in order to understand this relationship, we need more than preconceived pronouncements about how the city works, or about how gender and class work on space. Rather, we need rich, fine-grained ethnography that traces the dynamic intersections of gender, space, and class in a city. To do such ethnography properly requires peering beyond the surface appearances of the city and listening intently to the everyday lives lived within it. The four new ethnographic perspectives on gender, class, and space in Ho Chi Minh City discussed in this essay all offer ways to see the city again. Three of them do this by looking at class and gender, and one does it by rethinking how we make maps; two of them are by anthropologists, one by a sociologist, and one by an urban planner. But they share one thing in common: all of them hone their keen vision with the aid of ethnography...