Moral economy and the upper peasant: The dynamics of land privatization in the Mekong Delta

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This paper examines how people mobilize around notions of distributive justice, or 'moral economies', to make claims to resources, using the process of post-socialist land privatization in the Mekong Delta region of southern Vietnam as a case study. First, I argue that the region's history of settlement, production and political struggle helped to entrench certain normative beliefs around landownership, most notably in its population of semi-commercial upper peasants. I then detail the ways in which these upper peasants mobilized around notions of distributive justice to successfully press demands for land restitution in the late 1980s, drawing on Vietnamese newspapers and other sources to construct case studies of local land conflicts. Finally, I argue that the successful mobilization of the upper peasants around such a moral economy has helped, over the past two decades, to facilitate the re-emergence of agrarian capitalism in the Mekong Delta, in contrast to other regions in Vietnam.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)501-521
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Agrarian Change
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2014



  • Land reform
  • Moral economy
  • Post-socialism
  • Social mobilization

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