Moral Economy Meets Global Economy: Negotiating Risk, Vulnerability and Sustainable Livelihood among Shrimp Farming Households in Vietnam's Mekong Delta

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Peter A. Castro


Globalization and Agrarian Change, Market-led Land Reform, Neoliberalism, Post-socialism, Risk, Vulnerability and Sustainable Livelihoods, Shrimp aquaculture

Subject Categories



Market liberalization has enabled Vietnam to make substantial economic improvements, but it has also widened wealth disparities. My dissertation examines the process of social differentiation among shrimp farming households in Vietnam's Mekong Delta. I use the ways these households perceive and experience risk and vulnerability as a lens for understanding their situation. The study finds that farming households across the socio-economic spectrum have experienced intensified risk and livelihood vulnerability even as significant economic gains have been made, turning the country from a net food importer in the late eighties to a major agricultural exporter in the world today. This pattern is rooted in the imbalance resulting from two simultaneous processes: (1) fundamental structural transformations in property and production relations resulting from promotion of an export-led growth model that typically transfers risks in the production process to poorer farming households; and (2) weakening and/or loss of social and physical buffers. The latter includes the breakdown of informal safety nets such as kin and neighbor relations, communal bonds, gender relations and integrated families; and the loss of access to common property resources. While both risk and vulnerability are socially differentiated, households that occupy the lower end of the wealth ladder have to bear a disproportionate share of the risk burden channeled down by commercial shrimp aquaculture engaged in by the rich and better-off. By juxtaposing and contrasting globalization-induced changes with a subsistence economy, this study highlights the ways in which rural households perceive and respond to the structural transformations and changes in their living environment, and the implications thereof for sustainable livelihoods.


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