Society and Identity
The paper deals with a central, yet understudied, aspect of Vietnamese people’s everyday life: non-
commercial transactions. It refers to all the exchanges (in kind or in cash) that are done outside
official market and State channels. They and are based on interpersonal relationships
between exchangers. They constitute a major tangible expression of the social capital. This circulation
is very intense in Vietnam and takes various shapes: gift, loan with or without interest, credit groups...
The authors show that this circulation between people draws an assistance network on which everyone
can rely when facing a difficulty, becoming a key element of one’s resilience. In this respect, it
somehow constitutes an interpersonal social security scheme. In a context of institutional uncertainties
related to the deficiency of state institutions and instability of the neoliberal market,
the non-commercial circulation, with its economic and social functions, appears to be a
key element of the social fabric in today’s Vietnam.
The paper draws upon two field researches conducted on the Red River Delta in Northern Vietnam. It is based on deep
observation of practices and on 250+ qualitative interviews led in a rural village and in
Hanoi. It provides a unique analysis of households’ budgets and economic priorities that sheds light on
the social weight of exchanges, gifts and debts. It highlights the entitlements that come with such
economic embeddedness and discusses their efficiency in helping people when facing hardships.