Debt, Freedom, and Development: Insights from Asia
Date : 15 Jan 2019 - 16 Jan 2019
Venue : AS8 Level 4, Seminar Room 04-04
10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260
National University of Singapore @ KRC
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Organised by Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, and supported by Royal Holloway, University of London, UK

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 brings together scholars and practitioners who are interested in exploring the changing meanings, contours, and consequences of debt and indebtedness across contemporary Asia. Together, we consider the ways in which debt constrains, generates, and shapes freedom and development. We focus on how relationships between debt and freedom impinge on other key development dynamics in the region, including: internal and cross-border migration and mobility, urbanisation, climate change, agrarian change, gender and the family, labour relations, development-induced displacement, financialisation, and international relations.

The conference considers how debt engenders inequality, both economic and social, and invites papers from a variety of disciplines, including anthropology, sociology, geography, development studies, gender studies, political economy, agrarian studies, and urban planning. By bringing together a diverse set of regional scholars, we aim for this conference 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 conference will address include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • 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?
  • What broader currents beyond the nation-state drive debt and indebtedness across Asia and how are they shifting?


Admission is free, and seats are available on a first come, first served basis. We would greatly appreciate if you click on the "Register" button above to RSVP.


Prof Brenda S.A. Yeoh
Asia Research Institute and Department of Geography, National University of Singapore

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Prof Katherine Brickell
Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London

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Asst Prof Maryann Bylander
Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Lewis and Clark College
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Prof Jonathan Rigg
Asia Research Institute and Department of Geography, National University of Singapore

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Ms Charmian Goh
Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore
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Contact Person(s)
Valerie YEO