Structure and implications of migration in a transitional economy: Beyond the planned and spontaneous dichotomy in Vietnam

HX Zhang, PM Kelly, Catherine Locke, Alexandra Winkels, Neil Adger

Research output: Working paper


Migration is conventionally perceived in a negative light in respect of its relationship with development, particularly in terms of livelihoods, relational goods, and social capital. This negative perception is exhibited in the terms frequently adopted to analyse population movements, including displacement and refugee migration, and in the dichotomised categorisation of the phenomenon into forced and planned versus free or unorganised migration. This paper examines the limitations of this conceptual dualism. It points out that the dualistic approach has simplified a highly complex phenomenon by ignoring its essential heterogeneity and spatial and temporal dynamics. As such, it is limited in explaining and understanding the globally diversified, historically and politically contextualised situations. Focusing on the migratory experiences of contemporary Vietnam and linking migration to development and livelihoods in the Vietnamese context, the study identifies major patterns and trends of population mobility in the country across time and space. It shows that despite the state's continued attempts to reshape the country's population configuration and distribution over recent historical periods, the policy outcomes with respect to population mobility have been swayed as much by individuals and their families in pursuit of their own aspirations and livelihoods as by the state plans. The Vietnam case has provided evidence of a much more complicated relationship between migration and livelihoods than the conceptual dichotomy assumes. The paper then points to the policy implications for transcending the dualistic thinking in the Vietnam context: the need for a more holistic approach integrating migration as a whole into general development programmes encompassing more focused investment, better social provision and environmental protection projects in both sending and receiving communities.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
VolumeGEC 01-01
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • living standard
  • migration
  • mobility
  • population policy
  • Vietnam

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