Purdue University Graduate School
Huang Dissertation Final - 122020.pdf (4.21 MB)

"If we can't grow rice, then what?": Farming Livelihoods in the Production of Vietnam's Rice Farming Landscapes

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posted on 2020-12-15, 21:04 authored by Sarah D HuangSarah D Huang

This dissertation challenges dominant food security discourses and practices that seek to address food insecurity through technoscientific approaches to agricultural production. Situated in Vietnam’s An Giang province in the Mekong River Delta, this work ethnographically explores and historically grounds global, national, and household scalar implications of these same discourses and practices on rice farmers’ livelihoods. The central research question that guided this project asks: if farmers are producing security for the nation, then why do they remain food insecure? Through a 16-month ethnographic study utilizing a mixed-methods approach I combined participant observation, household surveys, semi-structured interviews, and participatory mapping with rice farmers, farm laborers, and local and national government officials in order to address this question from a historically and ethnographically ground perspective. I show how Vietnam’s history of hunger and famine, experienced most recently in the late 1970’s, colors the nation’s current and future agricultural development. Focused on a future of rural development, economic growth, and values of modernity, new models of agricultural production are implemented across the Mekong River Delta to ensure the nation’s self-sufficiency in producing “enough” rice and food. Amongst these strategies, intensive triple cropping rice practices, food safety certifications and practices, and an increased reliance on agro-chemicals has resulted in differing farming practices and mixed impacts on farming livelihoods. I leverage a feminist political ecology and science and technology studies framework to foreground the rice farmers’ perspectives and differed experiences, while tracking the rooted inequalities within government policies, market logics, and social relationships. In three articles, I (1) examine differential experiences of state-based agricultural models and their impact on farmers’ livelihood security (2) trace how dominant discourses raise questions about individual and state responsibility; and (3) explore emergent farming livelihood opportunities and challenges within late socialist agricultural development. Drawing on ethnographic accounts and experiences, particularly from farmers, results showed that these dominant discourses that narrows food security to only be governable through techno-scientific approaches and agricultural practices are insufficient to address farmers’ insecurity.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Anthropology

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Laura Zanotti

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr. Sherylyn Briller

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr. Sarah Grant

Additional Committee Member 4

Dr. Jennifer Johnson

Additional Committee Member 5

Dr. Zhao Ma

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