Workshop organised by Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore with additional support by Royal Holloway, University of London

Over the past decade, debt has become a defining social concern across Asia. From rising levels of household indebtedness, to the expansion of microfinance, the growing importance of debt in migration systems, and the increasing use of debt as a means of profit through financialisation, debt is increasingly understood as central to a range of pressing development problems as well as their proposed solutions. Critical to understanding the importance of debt is a recognition of its potential to both generate and constrain opportunity. Despite a renewed scholarly interest in debt and indebtedness in recent years, debt remains under-theorised within the social sciences, particularly in studies of contemporary Asia. While there has been extensive scholarly work, for instance on specific forms of debt (notably debt-bondage and microfinance) in some Asian contexts, it remains relatively narrow in scope and often country-specific in analysis. 

This conference will bring together scholars and practitioners who are interested in exploring the changing meanings, contours, and consequences of debt and indebtedness across contemporary Asia. Together, we will consider the ways in which debt constrains, generates, and shapes freedom and development. We are particularly keen to include papers that explore how relationships between debt and freedom impinge on other key development dynamics in the region, including for instance: internal and cross-border migration and mobility, urbanisation, climate change, agrarian change and land issues, gender and the family, labour relations, development-induced displacement, diplomacy, financialisation, and international relations. The workshop also looks to the different ways in which debt engenders inequality, both economic and social. We welcome papers from a variety of disciplines, including (but not limited to) anthropology, sociology, geography, development studies, gender studies, political economy, agrarian studies, urban planning, and religious studies. By bringing together a diverse set of regional scholars, we aim for this workshop to extend and deepen conversations about the intersections of debt with development dynamics across the region, leading to a broader and more sophisticated understanding of debt and indebtedness in contemporary Asian societies. Questions that the workshop will address include but are not limited to the following: 

  • What broader currents beyond the nation-state drive debt and indebtedness across Asia and how are they shifting?
  • How does debt generate or constrain freedom as it is lived, understood, and practised across Asia?
  • How might we further (or rethink) debates on the relationship between debt, financialisation, and freedom/ control in light of lived experiences of indebtedness in Asia?
  • How do the myriad relationships between debt and freedom shape, hinder, and cross-cut key development dynamics in contemporary Asia?
  • How does debt improve or constrain familial well-being and socioeconomic mobility and what risks, responsibilities, and household dynamics might it engender?
  • How does debt circulate spatially and temporally, what infrastructure makes this possible, and what effects on mobility and development does its circulation produce?

Submission of Abstracts

Paper abstracts should be submitted by 10 September 2018. Submissions should include a title, an abstract of 250-350 words (with sufficient details of the significance of the research question(s), conceptual framing, methodology, and key findings), a brief biography (maximum 100 words) including name, institutional affiliation, and email contact. Draft papers of 6,000 to 7,000 words are due on 17 December 2018.  

Please note that only previously unpublished papers or those not already committed elsewhere can be accepted. The organisers plan to publish a special issue or edited volume with selected papers presented in this conference. By participating in the conference you agree to participate in the future publication plans if your paper is selected for inclusion.  

The organisers will provide hotel accommodation for three nights and/or a contribution towards airfare for accepted paper participants (one author per paper). Please submit your abstract, using the provided paper proposal form to Ms Valerie Yeo at valerie.yeo@nus.edu.sg by 10 September 2018. Notifications of acceptance will be sent out by end-September 2018. 

Conference Conveners

  • Prof Brenda S.A. Yeoh, Asia Research Institute and Department of Geography, National University of Singapore
  • Prof Katherine Brickell, Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Asst Prof Maryann Bylander, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Lewis and Clark College
  • Prof Jonathan Rigg, Asia Research Institute and Department of Geography, National University of Singapore
  • Ms Charmian Goh, Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore