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Ivan Small

Ivan Small

Associate Professor
Ph.D., Cornell University



Ivan V. Small is a sociocultural and economic anthropologist, and associate professor in the Department of Comparative Cultural Studies. His research considers mobility, circulation and capital transformations in a trans-Pacific context, with a focus on Southeast Asia and the United States. He has held a number of research fellowships, most recently as a visiting senior fellow with the Yusof Ishak Institute for Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore in 2021, and is currently on the Fulbright specialist roster. He has worked and consulted for nonprofits, foundations, and think tanks including the Smithsonian, Ford Foundation, and World Policy Institute. He completed graduate studies in International Affairs and Anthropology at Columbia and Cornell Universities. Dr. Small's work has been published in prominent disciplinary and area studies journals including the Journal of Cultural EconomyTRaNS: Trans -Regional and -National Studies of Southeast Asia, Journal of Consumer Culture, Mobility in History, Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, Journal of Vietnamese Studies, and Visual Anthropology. 

Dr. Small’s research has been particularly engaged with Vietnam and the Vietnamese American diaspora. His first book, Currencies of Imagination: Channeling Money and Chasing Mobility in Vietnam (Cornell 2019), examines the changing social, spatial and material dimensions of migration and remittances between the U.S. and Vietnam since 1975, drawing on fieldwork in San Jose and Orange County California, and Saigon and Quy Nhon Vietnam. It considers the affective role of remittances in mediating trans-Pacific kinship networks, contests the symmetrical relationality assumed in the domesticated analytical category of “the gift” in anthropology and the humanities, and offers a transnational lens focusing on how diasporic mobility affects not only processes of refugee and immigrant community formations in the United States but also, the orientations, desires and expectations of those who stay behind. Examining the qualitative correlation between reception of remittances and aspirations for migration, Small demonstrates how the characteristics of the remittance gifting medium of U.S. dollars in a global economy, including transnational mobility and exchangeable value, come to partially define the relationships and aspirations of the exchange participants. The book traces a genealogy of how this phenomenon has shifted through changing remittance forms and transfer channels from 1975 to present: from material and black market forms to formal bank and money service transfers. Transformations in the social and institutional relations among givers, receivers, and remittance facilitators accompany these shifts, demonstrating that the socio-cultural work of remittances extends far beyond the economic realm to which they are typically consigned. 

Dr. Small is also co-editor (with Bill Maurer and Smoki Musaraj) of the book Money at the Margins: Global Perspectives on Technology, Financial Inclusion & Design (Berghahn 2018), featuring comparative ethnographic work on technological financial inclusion initiatives driven by Global North entrepreneurial development stakeholders and their reception in the Global South. This includes monetary exchange, transfer and accounting practices including rotating credit associations and digital mobile money – in countries ranging from Kenya to the Philippines, but also their value ecology conceptualizations by experts in research and development nodes like New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and London. Dr. Small remains involved in various emerging global financial technology research projects related to the anthropology of money, including the Human Economy Research Programme at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. 

In his most recent fieldwork, Dr. Small extends his analyses of mobility to transportation consumption patterns shaped by international and regional trade agreements in Southeast Asia, in particular the ASEAN Free Trade Area. Examining how mobility service providers – ranging from automotive manufacturers to multi-modal transportation concept labs, are projecting the future of mobility and the technologies that shape them onto emerging Asian markets, Dr. Small interrogates how generalized conceptions related to automobility, Asian culture, technological futures, and environmental sustainability are mobilized and modeled by marketers, designers, planners and engineers. He also examines how the emergent mobility infrastructures produced by these transportation stakeholders are apprehended and embodied by consumers of transportation commodities and services in rapidly expanding Vietnamese megacities. 

Dr. Small’s latest research agenda triangulates post-1975 first, second and third wave migration, remittance, transportation and investment patterns by Southeast Asians moving between the Northeast, California, and sunbelt cities in the South (Atlanta and Houston). He is interested in comparative Southeast Asian American community formations and transnational connections as they relate to the aesthetics and affordances of ethno-suburban development. This includes how Houston’s “Asiatown” has been shaped by various domestic and international migration and capital circulations, and community demands for visibility and inclusion in practices of place making. 

Dr. Small’s achievements have been recognized through multiple research awards and teaching honor rolls, he has also served as coordinator of Asian Studies among other leadership positions. He is an active member of the American Anthropological Association, Association for Asian Studies, and Association for Asian American Studies, and is an executive board member of the War Legacies Project.

Selected Publications


Currencies of Imagination: Channeling Money and Chasing Mobility in Vietnam (Cornell University Press, 2019). (Reviewed by American Ethnologist, Cross Currents, International Migration Review, Mekong Review, Pacific Affairs, Journal of Vietnamese Studies, Journal of Asian Studies. Podcasts available at Gatty Rewind and New Books Network.) 

Money at the Margins: Global Perspectives on Technology, Financial Inclusion and Design, co-edited with Bill Maurer and Smoki Musaraj (Berghahn Press, 2018).
(Reviewed by American Ethnologist, Current Anthropology, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.) 

Peer Reviewed Articles 

2022: “Driving is Terrifying: Auto-Mobile Horizons, Projections and Networks in Vietnam and ASEAN”, Journal of Cultural Economy. 

2021: “Wandering Money: Valuating and Mediating Remittances in Vietnam”, TRaNS: Trans -Regional and -National Studies of Southeast Asia 9(1), 31-43. 

2021: “Challenges Facing Vietnam’s Emerging Automobility Landscapes”, Perspective 83. Singapore: ISEAS Press. 

2019: “Remitting Desire: Trans-Pacific Migration, Returns and Imaginaries in Vietnam”. Perspective 56. Singapore: ISEAS Press. 

2018: “Affecting Mobility: Consuming Driving and Driving Consumption in Southeast Asian Emerging Markets”, Journal of Consumer Culture 18(3), 377-396.  

2018: “Remittance Channels and Regulatory Chokepoints”, Limn 10, 53-58. 

2016: “Framing and Encompassing Movement: Transportation, Migration, and Social Mobility in Vietnam”, Mobility in History 7(1), 79-90. 

2014: “Betwixt & Between: Tragedies and Memories of the Vietnamese Exodus, in Film and Audience”, Visual Anthropology 27(1-2), 197-200.  

2012: “Over There: Imaginative Displacements in Vietnamese Remittance Gift Economies”, Journal of Vietnamese Studies 7(3), 157-183. 

2012: “Embodied Economies: Vietnamese Transnational Migration & Return Regimes”, Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 27(2), 234-259.  

Chapters in Books

2022: “Capitalist Lack: Vietnamese American Remittances as Cultural Supplement and Political Critique”, The Vietnamese Diaspora in a Transnational Context: Contested Spaces, Contested Narratives, Victor Satzewich and Anna Vu, ed. Leiden: Brill Press, 123-142. 

2020: “Ecologies of Immateriality: Remittances and the Cashless Allure”, Who’s Cashing In? Contemporary Perspectives on New Monies and Global Cashlessness, Atreyee Sen, J. Lindquist and M. Kolling, ed. Oxford: Berghahn, 57-72.  

2019: “Vexed Returns: Vietnamese Returnee Interactions with Home and State”, Governance and Internal Migration, William Ascher and Shane Barter, ed. New York: Peter Lang, 129-146.  

2018: “Anticipating the Automobile: Transportation Transformations in Vietnam”, Consumer Culture Theory, Research in Consumer Behavior 19, Russell Belk, Alladi Venkatesh, Samantha Cross and Cecilia Ruvalcaba, ed. Emerald Group Publishing, UK, 145-161.  

2013: “The Vietnamese Transnational(s)”, Figures of Modernity in Southeast Asia, Joshua Barker, Erik Harms, and Johan Lindquist, ed. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. 72-75.


  • Migration / Borders / Citizenship
  • Transnational Vietnam
  • Economic Anthropology
  • Theories of Culture