Guys on the Street: Formality, Order, and Security Among
Motorbike Taxi Drivers in Ho Chi Minh City
"Motorbike taxi drivers are a ubiquitous, visible presence on the sidewalks of Ho Chi MinhCity’s inner districts, and they play an integral, albeit niche, role in the city’s transportation infrastructure. Yet, their rights to these spaces are contested. Their legal status to provide taxi services over the past decades has been questioned, increasingly regulated, and remains ambiguous. Motorbike taxi drivers also play an ambivalent role in the efforts of the state and the middle class to produce ordered urban space. However, based on sustained participant observation and dozens of interviews with motorbike drivers and city officials, I demonstrate that drivers also produce order. Drivers abide by strict rules regarding how and when they can approach potential customers. Furthermore, at the bus stations, train station, and other destinations, drivers are given the explicit authority and responsibility for maintaining order and security. Finally, drivers provide a classic example of Jane Jacobs’ notion of “eyes on the street,” whereby they are able to step in to protect residents when necessary, and their very presence deters incidents. I argue it is precisely their ambivalent place within the legal and social landscape that allows them a connection to the neighborhood and facilitates their role as eyes on the street." - Jessica Lockrem
Jessica Lockrem is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Rice University. Her dissertation, Moving Ho Chi Minh City: Planning Public Transit in the Motorbike Metropolis, is based on her long-term fieldwork in Vietnam where she examined the expert cultures that shape transportation infrastructure and how transportation technologies, in turn, shape everyday life in urban Vietnam. Jessica is the author of “Bodies in Motion: Attending to Experience, Emotion, the Senses, and Subjectivity in Studies of Transportation,” published in Mobility in History (2016). She teaches on urban issues, contemporary Vietnam, and social studies of science and technology at St. Edward’s University and is the Editorial Assistant for the journal Cultural Anthropology.
Video of lecture: