Currencies of Imagination
Channeling Money and Chasing Mobility in Vietnam
Ivan V. Small
In Vietnam, international remittances from the Vietnamese diaspora are quantitatively significant and contribute important economic inputs. Yet beyond capital transfer, these diasporic remittance economies offer insight into an unfolding transformation of Vietnamese society through the extension of imaginations and ontological possibilities that accompany them. Currencies of Imagination examines the complex role of remittances as money and as gifts that flow across, and mediate between, transnational kinship networks dispersed by exile and migration.
Long distance international gift exchanges and channels in a neoliberal political economy juxtapose the increasing cross-border mobility of remittance financial flows against the relative confines of state bounded bodies. In this contradiction Ivan V. Small reveals a creative space for emergent imaginaries that disrupt local structures and scales of desire, labor and expectation. Furthermore, the particular characteristics of remittance channels and mediums in a global economy, including transnational mobility and exchangeable value, affect and reflect the relations, aspirations, and orientations of the exchange participants. Small traces a genealogy of how this phenomenon has shifted through changing remittance forms and transfer infrastructures, from material and black market to formal bank and money services. Transformations in the affective and institutional relations among givers, receivers, and remittance facilitators accompany each of these shifts, illustrating that the socio-cultural work of remittances extends far beyond the formal economic realm they are usually consigned to.