Erik Harms, "Luxury and Rubble: Civility and Dispossession in the New Saigon" (U California Press, 2016)


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What happens when market-oriented policy reforms butt heads with a single-party state’s strictly maintained limits on political freedoms? That question sets the terms for Luxury and Rubble: Civility and Dispossession in New Saigon (University of California Press, 2016) by Erik Harms, an ethnography of two districts in Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City, the one a gleaming model of high modernist urban planning and building through party state-endorsed private enterprise, the other a demolition site. Though the residents of both speak of civic duties and advocate for civil rights, in the one these are realized through the manner in which people choose to live, while in the other they are undermined through the ways in which they are dispossessed.

Erik Harms joins us for this New Books in Southeast Asian Studies interview, to talk about detritus and condominiums, civility and civil society, liberalism and neoliberalism, the paradoxes of struggles for rights fought over contested land, the view from a suspension bridge, and the merits of open-access publishing through subvention.

Luxury and Rubble is available for free download here.

Do you have comments about this episode or any other on the New Books in Southeast Asian Studies channel? Perhaps you have suggestions for authors whom we ought to interview? If so, mail the hosts at nick.cheesman [at] or p.jory [at] We look forward to hearing from you.

Nick Cheesman is a fellow at the College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University and in 2019 a visiting researcher at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, and Ritsumeikan University, also in Kyoto.

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