Ep# 68“Landing on the Earth”: Ashley Carruthers on Organic Farming and Cycling in Vietnam

This week, we bring you an interview with Dr. Ashley Carruthers. Ashley is a lecturer of anthropology at the Australian National University’s School of Archaeology and Anthropology. His research interests include migration, mobilities, rural-urban relationships, networks and infrastructures, farming, organic agriculture, bicycles, and he has conducted in-depth fieldwork in Vietnam. 

This is also Familiar Strange Clair’s first interview! We hope you enjoy it! 

In this interview we talked about an organic farming community called Thang Dong. It’s located in a peri-urban region near Hoi An. We discussed what insights that WE, urban dwellers and subjects of modernization, could glean from the farmers’ organic agriculture project, which prevented them from being displaced. The project can be seen as a hybrid of multiple temporalities, where the traditional, the modern, and the postmodern are entangled in a non-linear manner. It is also an assemblage or a network of various agents, including non-human actors like the land, or the chemical fertilizers. We talked a lot about Latour’s Actor Network Theory, his book Down to Earth and We Have Never Been Modern. But don’t worry about it being too theory heavy, Ashley has tons of fun stories along the way! We also talked about the emerging culture of cycling as a leisure activity in Vietnam, and how the elites may inadvertently bring about some public good while benefiting themselves.  

Links and Citations 

If you wanted to learn more about Ashley’s work check it out here:

Check out Ashley’s work mentioned in this interview below: 

Carruthers, A 2020, ‘Landing on the Earth: Organic Farmers Reassemble Their Local in Central Vietnam’. Paper presented to the Anthropology Joint Seminar, ANU, 25 May 2020.

Carruthers, A 2018, ‘Taking the Road for Play: Cyclist Appropriations of Automobile Infrastructures in Vietnam’, Transfers: interdisciplinary journal of mobility studies, vol. 8, no. 3, pp. 1-27pp.

Carruthers, A 2016, ‘Vietnam’s New Cyclists’, in P Q Minh, N V Suu, I Ang & G Hawkins (ed.), Globalization, Modernity and Urban Change in Asian Cities, Knowledge Publishing House, Hanoi, Vietnam, pp. 213-232.

Latour, B., 2018, Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime. Polity.

Latour, B., 2005. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford UP.

Latour, B., 1993, We have never been modern, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.

Latour, B., 1988, The pasteurization of France, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass


“The desire to stay on the land, as I found in my research, is still very strongly there.”  

“The reversal or the pluralization of the temporal narrative of the idea that village is past, city is the future. In Thang Dong, there is this counter-narrative in a sense that’s come into being whereby farming can be the future, can be means of environmental rehabilitation and rejuvenation instead of destruction, can be a place for social integrity and consolidation rather than the hollowing out of the social, which is what we see in your typical migrant-sending rural villages.”

“The chemicals here are actors that break up the community. The desires to get rid of chemicals show that chemicals were a kind of intrusive actor breaking up the sociability of the village, making the environment uninhabitable and so on.” 

“If the arrow of time has turned towards the terrestrial, then the farmers in places like Thang Dong were actually the vanguard now. Those of us left behind in the cities are on the wrong side of the modernization front, on the wrong side of the advance of time towards the terrestrial .”

“That farm was struck quite hard by Covid because the tourism stream of their revenue dried up. But they were able to retreat into self-sufficient subsistence agriculture, focusing on supplying their neighbors with food. That kind of story of the capacity of Vietnam to return to a very grounded, very terrestrial existence is inspiring.”

“This is a version of elite informality. It’s a selfish interest in that space, and yet there’s a public good that comes out of that interest.”

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This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific and College of Arts and Social Sciences, and the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.

Music by Pete Dabro: dabro1.bandcamp.com
Shownotes by Clair Zhang and Matthew Phung
Podcast edited by Clair Zhang and Matthew Phung

Feature Image: “Samstag in Hanoi” by Robert Brands (2018)

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