Vietnamese Irregular Migrants in Moscow: Mobility, Consumption and Belonging

Dr Lan Anh Hoang1

1The University of Melbourne, , Australia

As the contingency and temporality of borders have become universal features, the questions of identity and belonging are tied less with one’s physical location or even the material credentials of membership than to the social imaginary of a community, society, and those deemed ‘rightfully’ a part of it. In this ethnographic study of Vietnamese migrants working at Moscow wholesale markets, I examine how migrants’ transient and precarious existence in Russia shapes their consumption practices and aspirations for the future. Drawing on Mary Douglas’s various works (Douglas and Isherwood 1979, Douglas 1982, Douglas and Wildavsky 1983), I use consumption as a lens for understanding how migrants define meaning and purpose of life. People’s choices and priorities in consumption, whether through daily meals, real estate investment, or financing an upgrade to the middleclass status for their children, express not only their identities and subjectivities, but also their social belonging. The paper offers important insights into processes of mobility and social change in post-communist societies that continue to grapple with yawning chasms between old and new ways of life, the local and the global, policy and practice, obsolete governance techniques and rapidly changing socio-economic realities.


Lan Anh Hoang is Senior Lecturer in Development Studies, School of Social and Political Sciences, The University of Melbourne. Her sole-authored monograph ‘Vietnamese migrants in Moscow: mobility in times of uncertainty’ and co-edited volume ‘Money and moralities in contemporary Asia’ – have recently been published by Amsterdam University Press.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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