The Limits of Authenticity in Vietnamese Consumer Markets



In this article, I address the saliency of the concept of “authenticity” in contexts of international law and anthropological inquiry. Using my research findings in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Vietnam, I show that although Vietnamese shoppers distinguish between what they term real and fake goods, they do not share with foreign corporations and international trade organizations a preoccupation with product and brand authenticity. To make this point, I describe four types of goods—model goods, mimic goods, real goods, and fake goods—employed by shoppers in HCMC, and discuss why they have little in common with notions of “authenticity” and “ownership” inherent in international standards of intellectual property. I argue that these conceptual differences in the commercial sphere challenge claims about the universal applicability of intellectual property rights laws and also encourage anthropologists to ask whether authenticity is always a useful tool of cross-cultural understanding.