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From rice fields to financial assets: Valuing land for microfinance in Cambodia



This paper explores how rural land in Cambodia has been incorporated into global networks of finance capital through the technical and political processes of turning land into a financial asset. Since the 1990s, the Cambodian government and international development institutions have issued land titles to people to formalise land ownership and increase people's access to formal credit. At the same time, Cambodia's commercial microfinance industry has rapidly grown to become one of the largest markets in the world per capita. The industry has expanded in part because microfinance institutions use land title for collateral on household loans as a method to manage the financial risk of their foreign investors and shareholders. In this paper, I draw on ethnographic research conducted with ACLEDA Bank, Cambodia's largest provider of microfinance loans, to examine how the rural land market and microfinance sector are assembled together. I argue that microfinance markets in Cambodia depend on credit officers establishing a capitalist regime of land value. To do so, credit officers engage in daily bricolage, using technologies of representation and data inscription, to create new grids of land evaluation that allow people to treat their land as a financial asset. I also argue that collateral is a kind of technology of control that reworks and respatialises household social reproduction for the benefit of financial accumulation. This paper thus contributes to our theoretical understanding of how land, labour, and finance capital are assembled together, and the political economic ramifications of such an assemblage. The information, practices and views in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). © 2019 Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers).
From rice fields to financial assets: Valuing land for
microfinance in Cambodia
W. Nathan Green
Department of Geography, University of
Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA
W. Nathan Green
Funding information
Fulbright IIE Student Program; Center for
Khmer Studies
This paper explores how rural land in Cambodia has been incorporated into global
networks of finance capital through the technical and political processes of turning
land into a financial asset. Since the 1990s, the Cambodian government and inter-
national development institutions have issued land titles to people to formalise
land ownership and increase people's access to formal credit. At the same time,
Cambodia's commercial microfinance industry has rapidly grown to become one
of the largest markets in the world per capita. The industry has expanded in part
because microfinance institutions use land title for collateral on household loans
as a method to manage the financial risk of their foreign investors and sharehold-
ers. In this paper, I draw on ethnographic research conducted with ACLEDA
Bank, Cambodia's largest provider of microfinance loans, to examine how the
rural land market and microfinance sector are assembled together. I argue that
microfinance markets in Cambodia depend on credit officers establishing a capi-
talist regime of land value. To do so, credit officers engage in daily bricolage,
using technologies of representation and data inscription, to create new grids of
land evaluation that allow people to treat their land as a financial asset. I also
argue that collateral is a kind of technology of control that reworks and respa-
tialises household social reproduction for the benefit of financial accumulation.
This paper thus contributes to our theoretical understanding of how land, labour,
and finance capital are assembled together, and the political economic ramifica-
tions of such an assemblage.
Cambodia, ethnography, finance, land titling, marketisation, property
If you want a loan to purchase a new tractor, you will have to give us a land title,explained Dara, a 25yearold credit
officer for ACLEDA Bank, the largest provider of microfinance loans in Cambodia. Dara and I sat underneath the raised,
wooden home of his new client in the countryside of southern Cambodia. Dara's client, a greyhaired, darkly tanned rice
farmer named Tiang, climbed up the singleplanked ladder into his home to grab his land titles. Tiang soon returned with
six documents, one for the plot his house stood on and the rest for each of his separate agricultural fields.
Dara combed through the pile of titles and said, These plots are all very small, I am not sure if they are valuable
enough to cover the size of your loan.Tiang protested, What about these two plots? They are good farm land.Tiang
and Dara discussed the fields before Dara began to make quick calculations to determine the price of the land. Their
The information, practices and views in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).
© 2019 Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers).
Accepted: 28 March 2019
DOI: 10.1111/tran.12310
Trans Inst Br Geogr. 2019;114.
discussion took a long time, because Tiang had never sold land before and he was unfamiliar with ACLEDA Bank's pro-
cess of land evaluation. Eventually, Dara decided that the fields would be valuable enough to cover Tiang's microfinance
loan request.
However, Dara had one more assessment to make before issuing a loan to Tiang. How many of your children currently
have jobs?he asked Tiang. This question was important: Dara knew that the success of the microfinance loan depended
on Tiang receiving remittances from his children working outside the village. Dara later told me, There's no way that
Tiang would be able to repay the loan from his farm work alone.
This short vignette illustrates one small part of turning land into a financial asset. This process now underpins Cambo-
dia's multibillion dollar international microfinance industry (Sinha, 2013). Dara's ability to provide a loan to a farmer in
rural Cambodia is the outcome of nearly three decades of global development ideology and practice (Upham, 2018). The
World Bank and other neoliberal institutions have helped to establish the laws, administrative capacities, and mapping tech-
nologies required to provide people with land titles to access credit (Deininger, 2003; Mitchell, 2007, 2009). At the same
time, the microfinance industry has assembled a powerful coalition of civilsociety organisations, state agents, international
financial investors, and development expertsto provision loans to the world's socalled billion poorest people (Mader,
2014; Roy, 2010; Weber, 2002). Together, land titling and microfinance programmes have produced new spaces for the
expansion of finance capital throughout the Global South (Rankin, 2013; Soederberg, 2014).
Geographers who study finance have shown that treating property as a financial asset is a defining feature of contempo-
rary capitalism. For instance, they have analysed how land has been turned into a financial asset within various sectors such
as urban realestate (Ward & Swyngedouw, 2018), the securitised mortgage industry (GarcíaLamarca & Kaika, 2016), and
industrial timber lands (Kay, 2017). This work builds on Harvey's (1982, 2010) theory of the spatialtemporal fix, which
explains how capital overcomes crises of overaccumulation by making investments into the built environment, in part by
reducing land to a pure financial asset. The continued rise of finance capital suggests that questions about finance and prop-
erty are crucial for debates about economic crises and dispossession (Christophers, 2016; French et al., 2011; Krippner,
2012; Sassen, 2010).
In the Global South, foreign investment in agricultural land represents one of the new frontiers for finance capital
(Fairbairn, 2014; Ouma, 2014). Global investors have crafted social and technological assemblages necessary to render
land into a financial asset legible to international investors (Li, 2014). Yet relatively little work has studied how rural
people with newly issued titles have mortgaged their farmland to finance agricultural production and social reproduction
(Mitchell, 2007). Many questions are therefore left open regarding financialisation in places like Cambodia, which just
recently established formal property systems: How have these programmes changed the way farmers value their land,
such that they now use it as a financial asset? How does mortgaging land in villages of Cambodia produce value for
financial investors from New York to Shanghai? These questions are particularly salient in the context of the socalled
microfinance revolution, in which formal credit has become a key strategy of neoliberal governance (Mader, 2014; Ran-
kin, 2013; Soederberg, 2014).
To answer these questions, I provide an ethnography of microfinance and propertytitling programmes in rural Cambo-
dia. This country now has one of the largest microfinance markets in the world per capita (Bylander, 2014), and millions
of Cambodians received formal title to their land in only the past 20 years (Diepart & Sem, 2015). My primary argument
is that microfinance markets in Cambodia depend on credit officers establishing a capitalist regime of land value. By
describing the work of credit officers at ACLEDA Bank, I show how these economic bricoleurs play a key role in trans-
forming land into a financial asset by assembling new institutional, legal, and technological networks of property valuation.
It is within these networks that people become capable of calculating the exchange value of their land often for the first
time. Credit officers do not act alone, however. They assemble networks through their interactions with microfinance bor-
rowers, cadastral authorities, local officials, and banking experts.
I also argue that this new regime of land value requires reworking social relations of property such that it becomes a
technology of control (Mitchell, 2002). Land is now used as collateral on nearly all microfinance loans in Cambodia, which
grants microfinance institutions and banks the power to seize borrowersproperty. Yet the direct seizure of land rarely takes
place. Creditors like ACLEDA Bank instead use the fear of land seizure to pressure borrowers into repayment. Because
households can no longer repay their loans solely through their productive activity on the land, family members must seek
out wage labour to repay their loans. In this way, I show how collateral reworks and respatialises household social repro-
duction for the benefit of financial accumulation.
By focusing on the offices and fields of credit officers and their clients in Cambodia, my paper contributes to geo-
graphic scholarship of finance and property. I demonstrate how finance capital subjects land and labour to the capitalist
value form. As Li (2014) has shown, technological and discursive practices are crucial for rendering land legible for global
finance capital. However, legibility alone is not enough. Only by establishing property as a technology of control, such that
households pursue new strategies of social reproduction, can finance circulate through land in Cambodia. This paper there-
fore advances scholarship about financial marketisation by placing value and power relations at the centre of analysis.
This research also responds to the call within economic geography for more research on the economic actors who are
crucial for creating new financial markets (Christophers et al., 2017; Ouma, 2016). As Hall (2011) has identified, the need
for this research is particularly salient outside of the AngloAmerican capitalist core. My focus on credit officers provides
insight into an essential part of the extended networks that connect rural villages in the Global South to financial centres in
other parts of the world.
I begin this paper with a brief discussion of methodology followed by an overview of my conceptual framework. The
following section provides a historical background of ACLEDA Bank and Cambodia's land titling programmes. I then
examine the practices required to turn land into a financial asset. I describe how microfinance credit officers help to estab-
lish a new regime of land value in the context of Cambodia's changing political economy. The next section analyses prop-
erty as a technology of control, which has the effect of tying household social reproduction into diverse spaces of wage
labour. I conclude with the implications of my research for wider scholarship on the geography of finance capital.
My argument draws on 20 months of ethnographic field work conducted between 2014 and 2018 in Phnom Domrey Dis-
trict, which is located in Cambodia's southern province of Kampot.
This rural district has a population of roughly 100,000
people. Most residents engage in agriculture, although rural outmigration is an important part of many familieslivelihood
strategies as well. During my research in Phnom Domrey, I lived in a small ricefarming community of 29 households. I
conducted participant observation, semistructured interviews, and a household socioeconomic survey in order to learn
about people's borrowing practices and landownership history.
I also formally enrolled in a fiveweek internship at the Phnom Domrey branch office of ACLEDA Bank. As part of this
internship programme, I was allowed to observe all aspects of the credit department's work. I conducted interviews with all
of the credit officers and accompanied them into the field, where I observed them interact with borrowers. In order to con-
textualise ACLEDA Bank's operations, I also conducted semistructured interviews with the managers of eight microfinance
institutions in Phnom Domrey as well as a range of expertson microfinance and property markets in the capital city of
Phnom Penh. I conducted all of this research by myself, mostly in the Khmer language, which I speak at an advanced
level. In presenting this data, I have chosen to highlight a few key interlocutors. I use their examples to illustrate the gen-
eral trends, and exceptions, that I learned during fieldwork.
Property titling and fictitious capital
For the past several decades, national governments throughout the Global South have implemented propertytitling pro-
grammes to help establish formal capital markets. The World Bank has led this effort by working with governments and
other international development institutions (Mitchell, 2007). Expertsfor these institutions have helped to write land laws,
establish national land registry systems, and provision people with land titles (Hetherington, 2012). The World Bank argues
that these land systems contribute to economic growth by improving tenure security and facilitating land markets (Deinin-
ger, 2003).
Proponents of propertytitling programmes also claim that titles can unlock the value within poor people's property
through the mechanism of credit. This idea was most famously championed by the Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto
(2000, p. 7). He claimed that poor people own vast amounts of wealth, but this wealth is trapped as dead capitalwithin
their property. According to de Soto, the value of homes and land does not lie simply in the ability to house and feed peo-
ple. Property contains another kind of potential value which can only be released by turning property into collateral, col-
lateral into credit, and credit into increased income(Woodruff, 2001, p. 1219).
Geographers and other researchers have critiqued the neoliberal agenda of property titling (Hall et al., 2011; Mitchell,
2009). For example, Christophers (2010) claims that propertytitling programmes are based on voodoo economicsthat
confuse the origin of property's value. Whereas de Soto (2000) locates property's value in its legal and representational
form materialised in the land title Christophers adopts a Marxian theory of value to argue that property itself, defined
as land and what is built on it, cannot be a source of value. The value of property is always dependent on productive
labour of some kind. When people take out a mortgage on their home, for instance, that loan is ultimately repaid with
money from either business profits, wage labour, or productive activity on the land. From this perspective, neoliberal titling
programmes are bound to fail because they seek to realise value without producing it (Christophers, 2010).
Consequently, Marxian political economists highlight the potentially disastrous contradiction of financialised property
(Harvey, 2010; Sassen, 2010). According to Harvey (1982), credit money lent on property is a fictitious form of capital.
People who secure a loan with a property title do not sell their land; they are simply transferring the right to benefit from
future value to the lender, who generally extracts it through rent or interest payments (Harvey, 1982, p. 267). In this sense,
the fictitious value of an asset is different to the value of a commodity, which is produced by human labour and realised
through its sale (Ward & Swyngedouw, 2018). This spatialtemporal difference between value and fictitious value can lead
to a devaluation of financial investments in the built environment. As speculative lending in property outpaces actual pro-
duction, for example, the economy may become oversaturated with fictitious capital, leading to periodic economic crises
(Harvey, 1982).
This problem was most clearly demonstrated in the 2008 mortgage crisis in the USA and Europe. With the trading of
mortgage securities on derivative markets, vast amounts of fictitious capital flowed through the economy (Christophers
et al., 2017). Only when investors sought to cash in simultaneously on these underlying assets did the fictitious nature of
this capital become apparent, because many homeowners were unable to repay their mortgages after interest rates increased.
These speculative crashes have resulted in disastrous consequences for people who are held accountable by law to repay
their creditors, often by losing their land and homes (Sassen, 2010). Harvey (2003, p. 137) argues that this process of ac-
cumulation by dispossessionis a structural feature of financialised economies built on systems of private property.
A crucial assumption underpinning Marxian theories of finance is that people come to treat their property as a financial
asset (Harvey, 1982, p. 387). To treat land as a financial asset means that its use value as shelter, or cultural value as home,
is subordinated to its exchange value. Thus land owners, whether they're financiers (Ward & Swyngedouw, 2018), industri-
alists (Christophers, 2010), or individual homeowners (GarcíaLamarca & Kaika, 2016), come to use their land primarily as
a means to generate revenue or profit. According to Harvey's (1982, 2010) theory of the spatialtemporal fix, this logic
drives finance capital's expansionary and imperialist tendencies. He explains:
Capitalism always requires a fund of assets outside of itself if it is to confront and circumvent pressures of
overaccumulation. If those assets, such as empty land or new raw material sources, do not lie to hand, then
capitalism must somehow produce them. (Harvey, 2003, p. 143)
The propertytitling programmes advocated by neoliberal thinkers from Hayek to de Soto have tried to create these assets
in urban neighbourhoods and remote villages throughout the world (Mitchell, 2007, 2009). Investigating how these assets
are created is thus generative terrain for understanding the contemporary expansion of financial capitalism.
Financial assets and rule of property
To understand how land is turned into a financial asset, some geographers have turned to theories of marketisation (e.g.,
Ouma, 2016). This literature points out that the market is not a pregiven social field waiting to be discovered by econo-
mists (Çalışkan & Callon, 2010; MacKenzie et al., 2007). Geographers of marketisation instead analyse how markets are
brought into existence through the dispersed agency of human practice, technological devices, and knowledge production
(Berndt & Boeckler, 2012; Christophers, 2014).
This approach helps to explain how land becomes a financial asset. In her study of financial investment in agricultural
land, for example, Li (2014) has shown how investors can only come to seeland by establishing certain grids of evalua-
tion in which the price of land can be communicated across time and space. This information is in turn produced through
inscription devices, such as fruit trees, title deeds, or satellite images, which assemble land into a resource that can be mea-
sured and made calculable. Hetherington (2012) has similarly shown that the cadastral systems created by the World Bank
and USAID in the 1980s and 1990s were designed to facilitate the flow of information to allow buyers and sellers to com-
municate through price signals in a capitalist market. Land titling programmes thus rearrange both the representation and
materiality of property in ways that translate social relations into a monetary value (Mitchell, 2007).
In other words, neoliberal property programmes help to install a capitalist regime of value (Sikor et al., 2017). A regime
of value refers to the specific economic, moral, and semiotic qualities of value that are dominant within a field of social
relations (Graeber, 2001). Anthropologists have long studied how competing regimes of value coexist in specific contexts
in order to map the sociospatial limits of capitalism (e.g., Guyer, 2004). According to Bigger and Robertson (2017), how a
regime of value becomes dominant is determined in part by practices of valuation. Setting specific standards of measure-
ment to make disparate values commensurable, for example translating morals into price, is an essential part of establishing
a particular regime of value. Such practices are carried out by human actors engaged in powerladen arrangements of mate-
rial objects, technologies, and discourses (Çalışkan & Callon, 2009).
Moreover, property markets within a capitalist regime of value depend on a specific kind of economic subject (Langley,
2008). Specifically, people come to calculate their land in terms of its exchange value, as well as the potential risks that
arise from treating it as a financial asset (GarcíaLamarca & Kaika, 2016). Sikor et al. (2017) argue that even though sym-
bolic and cultural values will always shape how people use their land to some extent, the imposition of a capitalist regime
of value often leads to serious devaluation or virtually complete annihilation of the value [people] attribute to an object
(Sikor et al., 2017, p. 13).
Given such devaluation, private property programmes depend on powerladen forms of control, such as incarceration,
surveillance, and exclusion (Mitchell, 2002). In the case of using land as collateral to access credit, Bromley explains that,
holding collateral gives lenders profound control over borrowers(2008, p. 22), because the mortgage lender is given legal
rights over a borrower's property until a loan is repaid. Indeed, studies have demonstrated how after property is formalised,
many poor and marginalised communities have lost access to their land as a result of debtdriven land sales (e.g., Hall
et al., 2011).
Since collateral gives power to creditors over debtors, in this paper I investigate how property is used as a technology
to control microfinance borrowers in Cambodia. This technology is directly linked to the expertswho regulate property
and financial markets (Blomley, 2003; Mitchell, 2009). In his study of property reform in Egypt, for example, Mitchell
(2002) has demonstrated how cadastral officials produced new sites of control and calculation to manage property. Deci-
sions about property's measurement and valuation moved from the local context of the village into the rarefied spaces of
government and international experts.As such, these new spaces of calculation gave greater authority to those economic
agents who could map, zone, and measure property. Crucially, such rule of expertsis backed by the sovereign power of
the state (Mitchell, 2002).
With the financialisation of property, financial expertsare increasingly important in control over property markets as
well (Bamford & MacKenzie, 2018). Yet our knowledge of the expertswho provision credit to people with newly issued
land titles remains limited. In many rural areas of the Global South, microfinance institutions provide this credit (Roy,
2010; Soederberg, 2014). For this reason, in what follows, I focus my attention particularly on the credit officer. The credit
officer is an important actor who translates global ideologies and practices onto the ground in their interactions with bor-
rowers (Young, 2010). If we study how these credit officers daily create financial markets, then we will be in a better posi-
tion to understand, and contest, the uneven geographies of finance capital.
It was late morning by the time Dara and I returned to ACLEDA Bank's credit office after visiting his new client Tiang.
Coming into the dusty district town of Phnom Domrey, we passed several of the more than two dozen other microfinance
institution (MFI) branch offices built in just the past five years. Cambodia now has one of the largest microfinance indus-
tries in the world in terms of borrowers per capita and average loan sizes (MIMOSA, 2016). As the biggest domestic com-
mercial bank in the country, ACLEDA Bank's dominance within this industry is visible on the landscape of the district
town: its tall, blue building towers over the other MFI branch offices.
When Dara and I arrived back at the office, he immediately went to work completing Tiang's new loan application.
Dara's desk was crammed in next to those of twelve other young men. The heavily airconditioned room was full of activ-
ity as the credit officers discussed their loans from the morning. Like Dara, these credit officers were all university edu-
cated, and were part of the rising middle class in rural Cambodia. Dara had joined the credit department of ACLEDA Bank
because he wanted to have a stable, wellpaying job near his family in the countryside.
Although ACLEDA Bank is now a commercial bank,
it began as a nonprofit NGO in 1991 with the aim of improving
local livelihoods. A small group of Cambodians established it with the support of the International Labour Organization
and the United Nations Development Programme (Clark, 2006). There was almost no banking infrastructure in the country
in those years. Two decades of war, genocide, and socialist economic planning had decimated the commercial banking sys-
tem that existed before 1970 (Slocomb, 2010). ACLEDA Bank first followed the microfinance povertylending model
pioneered by the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. It gave small group loans to mostly women in rural areas, where the vast
majority of the country's population relied on farming (Clark, 2006).
ACLEDA and the other early MFIs in Cambodia were part of a larger economic transformation within the country
(Hughes, 2003). With the support of the United Nations, in 1993 Cambodia held national elections and adopted a liberal
democratic constitution after more than two decades of war. The government soon enacted neoliberal structural adjustment
reforms to attract foreign investment based on the advice and pressure of development institutions like the International
Monetary Fund (Springer, 2010).
In this neoliberal economic context, the Cambodian government promoted microfinance services in rural areas as part of
its povertyalleviation strategy. In the mid1990s, the United Nations Development Programme and Asian Development
Bank advocated turning microfinance institutions like ACLEDA into licensed financial institutions (Norman, 2011). Their
advice followed the bestpractices identified by the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), a partnership organisa-
tion of the World Bank that sought to commercialise the microfinance industry globally (Roy, 2010).
In 1997, ACLEDA's board of directors began the process of transforming from a nonprofit NGO into a commercial
bank. Importantly, it moved away from noncollateralised group loans towards individual loans which used land title as col-
lateral (Clark, 2006). However, the land certificates used by ACLEDA in the 1990s had no connection to a national land
registry. The Cambodian government had established a national cadastral system in 1989 and began issuing land titles in
1992, but by the end of the decade less than 10% of Cambodians had formal title (Biddulph, 2000). The government lacked
the financial, technical, and administrative capabilities to provide title to all but the most wellconnected and wealthy Cam-
bodians (Diepart & Sem, 2015).
Consequently, in 2002, the Cambodian government and the World Bank launched the Land Management and Adminis-
tration Program to formalise land transfers and create a national land registration system. The World Bank consultants that
headed the titling programme claimed that land titles would provide greater security against forced evictions and boost eco-
nomic activity in rural areas (Upham, 2018).
In longsettled agricultural districts like Phnom Domrey, land titles were sup-
posed to facilitate a land market and give farmers the collateral needed to access credit. In many areas, the programme
followed fairly transparent processes of land measurement, mapping, and registration (So, 2011). However, the World Bank
was forced to shut down its titling programme in 2009 after activists demonstrated that the communities with the least
secure land tenure had not been issued formal titles (Brickell, 2014).
After the World Bank titling programme, the Cambodian government continued to issue land titles throughout the coun-
try. It often deployed the same justifications as the prior World Bank project. In a national speech delivered in June 2012,
for example, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen extolled the economic benefits of a new titling programme known as
Order 01. He claimed that people could deposit their new land titles in banks in request for loansas a means for them
to develop fast and have a vast economic effect on their own livelihood(cited in Milne, 2013, p. 327). By 2017, when
counting Order 01 and other titling programmes together, the Cambodian government had issued titles for about 66% of
the total estimated number of land parcels to be titled in the country (MLMUPC, 2017).
National titling programmes have helped to grow the microfinance industry in Cambodia (Milne, 2013; Ovesen & Tran-
kell, 2014). By the mid2000s, nearly all of the large MFIs in Cambodia required land title as collateral for loans. These
institutions use land title as a means to mitigate the risks of expanding their loan portfolio. In 2008, for example, ACLEDA
Bank argued in its annual report that the bank needed collateral on loans to protect investorscapital following the 2008
financial crisis (ACLEDA, 2008, p. 36). As part of nearly every loan application, borrowers must deposit their land title
with the bank, accompanied with a mortgage contract that gives the bank the right to force a land sale in the case of loan
Today, Cambodiansproperty backs $6.3 billion in outstanding microfinance loans (MIX, 2018). Much of this debt is
financed with foreign capital. The International Finance Corporation has helped arrange international loans for the country's
biggest microfinance lenders. In 2015 alone it facilitated US$200 million in loans to five MFIs (Chan & Vannak, 2016).
Moreover, many international banks have arrived in Cambodia in search of highreturn investment opportunities. By 2013,
nearly 90% of the shares within Cambodia's microfinance industry were held by foreigners (Sinha, 2013), and now several
of the country's largest MFIs are owned outright by international banks (Kimsay, 2018).
This takeover of Cambodia's microfinance industry follows patterns elsewhere in the world. International investment
banks now take an active role in extending financial markets to the world's poorest (Rankin, 2013; Soederberg, 2014). As
Mader (2014) has argued, the key innovation of microfinance has been to create markets that connect global creditors with
debtors in the urban slums and rural villages of the Global South. In the remainder of this paper, I turn to the local prac-
tices, agencies, and politics that create these markets in Cambodia. In particular, I show how farmers have come to treat
their land as a financial asset through the imposition of a new regime of value underpinned by property as technology of
Changing regimes of land value in rural Cambodia
Dara and I drove back out to Tiang's rice fields following an afternoon monsoon rain to inspect the land that Tiang wanted
to use as collateral on his new loan. Dara asked Tiang about his annual rice yield, past flooding, and his history of land
ownership. Tiang explained that he had received the land from the socialist Cambodian government in the early 1980s after
the Khmer Rouge regime was overthrown in 1979. He had farmed it with his family since that time, growing rice once per
year. He only received title to his fields in 2005, when officials from the district land office came to his village and mea-
sured people's land as part of the World Bank's national titling programme.
After looking at the fields, Dara returned to Tiang's house to finish the loan application. As part of every loan, Dara is
required to determine the price of land that will be used as collateral. When Dara asked Tiang how much his land was
worth, however, Tiang said that he was not sure about its price. A friend of mine just sold his land for $10,000, so I think
my land is probably worth that as well,Tiang suggested. Dara disagreed, Your land is not next to any major roads, and
the land around here gets flooded in the rainy season. This land is only worth US$0.5 per square metre.Tiang debated
with Dara for a while, but eventually accepted Dara's estimate.
Although Tiang did not know the price of his land, he knew the amount of rice that he could harvest from each plot.
The problem was that this was not how Dara would value his land in the loan application. This discrepancy was apparent,
for example, when Dara asked Tiang about the size of his land. Tiang replied This field is about 120 rice bundles, and
that field is maybe 160 bundles.He measured his fields using vocabulary that described agricultural yield and labour,
rather than abstract spatial units like hectares and square metres. In this sense, Tiang and Dara were approaching their dis-
cussion from two separate regimes of land value (Bigger & Robertson, 2017; Sikor et al., 2017).
Tiang's language of measuring a field in terms of rice bundles came from a system of mutual labour exchange, known
as brovas dai, which has long characterised rice agriculture in Cambodia. In this system, farmers join a local work group
comprised of family members and neighbours to help other members farm their fields. They share in work such as plough-
ing, transplanting seedlings, and harvesting rice. Labourbased measurements of land are an essential element of brovas
dai. How many rice bundles someone transplanted, or the number of periods of the day someone worked, sets the terms of
labour reciprocity. As such, the number of rice bundles is a standard measurement of both field size and labour time.
This component of land measurement is but one element of how people value land in rural Cambodia. A number of
other environmental conditions determine a given plot's value to farmers. For example, the quality of soil and the elevation
of a field both influence how a farmer values a given field. Higher, sandy fields are grown with rice varietals that are suit-
able in times of heavy rains, whereas lower, clayheavy fields that fill with water are prized during times of drought. How
farmers value each field is thus interwoven with both the cultivation practices and rice cultivars suitable to the unpre-
dictable, extreme weather patterns of monsoonal Southeast Asia (Nesbitt, 1997).
Although farmers in Tiang's village still think about the labour time and land quality needed for farming, such ways of
measuring and valuing land have diminished as labourintensive farming began to decline in the mid1990s. At that time,
villagers began to migrate to find work in factories opening in the capital of Phnom Penh, while others travelled to Thai-
land in search of manual labour on plantations and fishing boats. Moreover, with the introduction of microfinance in the
late 1990s, some households found themselves going into more debt than they could repay. Not only did this encourage
migration, it also increased the need for money. As such, many farmers asked to be paid in cash for the labour that they
once used to exchange. In the last decade, the prior system of mutual labour has mostly disappeared in Tiang's village,
because households lack sufficient labour to exchange and they have become almost entirely reliant on the money
The commercialisation of rice agriculture is now a national trend in Cambodia as farmers have become increasingly
dependent on commodity markets (Beban & Gorman, 2017; Diepart & Sem, 2018; Mahanty & Milne, 2016). National gov-
ernment policy has contributed to this shift, as the government has actively promoted an exportdriven agricultural policy
(RGC, 2010). As Cambodian farmers produce for domestic and international markets, they have used microfinance loans to
invest in new machinery and capitalintensive inputs (Ovesen et al., 2012). In some parts of the country, irrigation systems
have allowed farmers to grow rice twice per year, which has further facilitated commercial production (Kimkong &
Someth, 2015). However, despite increased agricultural productivity in Cambodia, most households no longer rely on
farming as their primary income source. Agriculture's share of GDP dropped from 45% to 26% between 1995 and 2012,
with most of the gains made up in the garment manufacturing sector (World Bank, 2015).
There is evidence to suggest that household debt to microfinance institutions has contributed to these agrarian changes
in Cambodia (Mahanty & Milne, 2016; Ovesen et al., 2012). In particular, household debts have outpaced agricultural
income: average microfinance loan sizes are now nearly three times larger than per capita income (Bylander, 2015b). The
majority of microfinance loans are instead repaid with wages, many of which are remitted from migrant family members
(Bylander, 2015b; Diepart & Sem, 2018). In Tiang's small hamlet, for instance, 14 out of 26 surveyed households rely on
remittances to cover monthly loan repayments and other basic needs. Indeed, microfinance and migration now go handin
hand. Families both borrow to finance migration and migrate to pay back loans (Bylander, 2014). Today, roughly 10% of
Cambodia's population now labour in factories, plantations, and restaurants in Thailand alone (World Bank, 2017).
Moreover, when people mortgage their land for microfinance loans, they are increasingly doing it to finance the costs of
social reproduction (Green & Estes, 2019). For example, Tiang's neighbours Sothy and Borin are husband and wife, both
in their mid60s, and currently live at home where they raise their four grandchildren. Their adult children all work outside
of the village in Phnom Penh or other provinces. While Borin and Sothy still farm their rice fields, they cannot sustain their
family with this production alone. They are severely in debt to ACLEDA Bank because they took out a $2,000 loan to pay
for hospital bills after their daughter gave birth to her second child and became dangerously ill. They now rely on money
sent home from their other children to repay the loan, cover the costs of food, and pay for their grandchildren's education.
As other Cambodians face similar changing livelihood demands, only 20% of ACLEDA Bank's loans are for agriculture
these days. The majority of loans are used to finance household renovations, education, health care, and other basic needs
(Seng, 2017). In short, microfinance both contributes to and depends on farm familiesdiverse livelihood strategies that
extend social reproduction far beyond agricultural land.
As such, when evaluating a client's borrowing potential, Dara often asks about family members who can contribute to
the repayment of the loan. Only in taking into consideration both the family's total income and the value of the land collat-
eral can Dara issue a loan. Rarely are loans given to farmers if they do not also have children working in factories or con-
struction sites in urban centres. For these reasons, when Tiang requested a loan from ACLEDA Bank, Dara had agreed to
the loan amount, not only because Tiang had collateral, but because his children had the ability to help Tiang repay his
It is within this changing political economy of rural Cambodia that people have come to treat their land as a financial
asset. The commodification of agriculture and social reproduction, establishment of a formal property system, and the fast
growth of rural microfinance have enabled the political economic conditions for families to use their land as a financial
investment. Rural land is increasingly defined by the capitalist value form, in which prior forms of land value are subordi-
nated to the exchange value of land as financial asset (Harvey, 1982). While these trends within Cambodia's rural economy
help to explain why people often use land as a financial asset, they do not explain the sociotechnical process by which
land is valued and measured in ways legible for finance. It is to this process that I now turn.
Land valuation for microfinance loans
As part of every loan application, ACLEDA credit officers must determine the price of land that will be used as collateral.
For much of the rural land in Cambodia, where there is no formal real estate market, the way credit officers determine the
price of land relies on a number of actors and sociotechnical networks of information exchange (Çalışkan & Callon,
2010). Within this process, credit officers engage in daily bricolage to allocate a price to their client's collateral (Young
et al., 2016).
Credit officers get most of their price information from local people who have recently been involved in land transac-
tions. In particular, they inquire with village chiefs who sign off on all village land transactions and report land prices to
the commune council for tax collection. In Cambodia, the commune council is the lowestlevel elected state administrative
body. Councils are responsible for valuing land within their commune in order to provide this information to the district
office of taxation. The taxation department uses the land values provided by communes to determine the amount of
required sales tax on land transactions. They compile this into an official table of land values that is publicly available.
However, most people agree that these official land value tables only set the minimum tax to be paid on land. Gener-
ally, land prices fluctuate too rapidly for the land value tables at the tax department or commune hall to be accurate. More-
over, these tables are often used to justify belowmarket land sales in order to avoid paying tax on the higher, real
transaction cost. Instead, to stay abreast of actual land prices, credit officers must maintain regular social networks, such as
drinking at local coffee shops, chatting with clients, and touching base with village and commune chiefs.
At ACLEDA Bank, the credit officers share this information with each other in order to compile a book of land prices
for every village within the district. The valuation of land is thorough: there are a total of 25 different types of land. These
types are based on two categories: quality and location. The quality of land, according to ACLEDA Bank, is determined
primarily by its elevation and soil fertility. The location refers to the land's proximity to different kinds of roads. Land next
to a national highway, for instance, has a much higher price than land next to an ungraded dirt path.
There is no geographical map for this information, because the bank still does not have access to digital mapping tech-
nologies. Nevertheless, the book of land prices produces a kind of grid of evaluation that allows credit officers to assess
the exchange value of their client's collateral (Li, 2014). This grid of evaluation standardises agroecological knowledge that
farmers have long used to assess the quality of a field. Through the knowledge network that credit officers maintain and
formalise in their land book, this knowledge now informs land prices that set the limits on microfinance loans.
To mitigate the risks of lending, ACLEDA Bank also requires that credit officers value a client's land 50%75% below
market price to account for fluctuations in the land market. We reduce the price of collateral so that we can recoup the
loan if the client defaults on their loan,the director of ACLEDA Bank's credit department told me. Credit officers use a
standardised form, produced by the bank's internal risk management department, to determine this reduced price.
Within these processes of valuation, credit officers exercise some discretionary agency over the value of collateral.
When Dara met with his client Tiang, I watched as he repeatedly punched into his calculator different values for land until
he arrived at a satisfactory number. He had to find a balance between valuing the land high enough to cover the requested
loan amount, but not overvaluing the land beyond the point where ACLEDA Bank would be unable to recoup their money
by selling the collateral. This is a delicate balance, because Dara faces intense pressure from his departmental chiefs to
tread carefully.
Every week on Friday afternoon, the credit department holds meetings to review credit officersperformances. The boss
will call out credit officers, demanding that they stand up and tell the group, among other things, why they gave a loan to
a client whose land is not valuable enough to cover the cost of the loan. As such, Dara's ability to value land is partly con-
strained by the power structure within his credit department.
Dara and his fellow credit officers have become integral actors within local land markets. They represent what Callon
has called economists in the wild(2007, p. 338), those professionals who daily bring markets into existence. In this case,
they connect land to new spaces of calculation shaped by the priorities of ACLEDA Bank and its shareholders (Mitchell,
2002). This means that when Tiang borrowed from ACLEDA Bank, his land became entangled within new social and tech-
nological relations distinct from the forms of social labour that once underpinned agricultural practices (Li, 2014). Now, by
treating land as a financial asset, his land has extended into a new network of actors: the ACLEDA Bank credit department,
risk management departments, village chiefs, commune councils, and local tax offices.
This evaluation enables a new regime of value, one in which land's value is monetised and separated from former uses
(Guyer, 2004). However, if we end our analysis here, then we will have only seen one side of this story. Holding a title on
a loan is a form of fictitious value: at the end of the day, it is a claim to the future value of an unsold asset (Christophers,
2014). For ACLEDA Bank to produce profits for its shareholders, it must make good on its claim to that future value
represented by the loan contract. As I describe below, this claim is backed by the power of collateral as a technology of
Controlling land, producing value
On the morning when I accompanied Dara out to Tiang's field, I asked him about the purpose of taking land titles as collat-
eral. It is like insurance,Dara explained. Many people these days borrow money that they cannot repay. If we have their
land title, then we can threaten them that they will lose their land if they do not pay us back.For example, on one occa-
sion, I was out with Dara at the end of the month when he was tracking down clients who were late on their loan repay-
ments. We visited an elderly woman, who was squatting on the ground weaving a basket as we arrived at her home.
Dara immediately began to berate her for not making her last several monthspayments. Grandmother, you signed a
contract,he yelled. If you don't pay us, we will come and lock up your house and auction it off!Dara's threat was all
the more effective because he had confronted the woman outside of her house in front of her neighbours. Like with micro-
finance debt in other contexts, this act of public shaming is a powerful disciplining force as people do not want to lose face
within their communities (Karim, 2011).
A few days after Tiang took out his loan from ACLEDA Bank, I asked him about the repercussions if he does not pay
it back. He admitted that he worried about the risks. Tiang told me the story of his neighbour Makara. It was a story I
knew well, since I had become close to Makara and her husband, both in their early 30s with three young children. They
had borrowed money from an MFI to renovate their home several years ago, and then later they borrowed more to pay for
the hospital bills of Makara's ailing mother. Makara's husband had temporary, unreliable work on construction sites in
Phnom Penh, and so Makara fell behind on the loan repayments. Eventually Makara and her husband felt pressured by
credit officers to sell their agricultural land to a neighbour to repay their loan. They then moved to the city to live at the
construction site where Makara's husband now works.
Although such stories have made many people fearful of losing their land, most MFIs and banks like ACLEDA do not
want their clients to sell their land. According to ACLEDA's annual reports, the bank has not had a single case of reposses-
sion in many years. The costs associated with repossession are often too high compared to the value of the loan default.
Moreover, taking direct possession of rural land offers few financial benefits for the bank, because the land itself is divided
into many small parcels difficult to consolidate and there are few rental markets in Phnom Domrey for agricultural land.
Instead, most microfinance institutions would prefer to keep their clients and have them make monthly interest pay-
ments. This outcome fits with how finance capital usually extracts surplus value through rent and interest payments
(Andreucci et al., 2017). In the case of microfinance, the loan contract is a highly flexible mechanism of surplus value
extraction because borrowers selfdiscipline themselves in ways that are often more efficient than the direct seizure of peo-
ple's land (Mader, 2014; Roy, 2010).
However, the fear of losing land through loan default is a real one in Cambodia, given the contracts that borrowers sign.
When Tiang borrowed his loan, he agreed to take full responsibility for loan repayments, or else face legal repercussions.
The law that underpins the loan contract is enforced through local forms of statesanctioned power, oftentimes with no
recourse to due process in court. The court system in Cambodia is far too expensive and timeconsuming for most microfi-
nance loan cases to end up there. A local lawyer told me, Banks will only go to court if the loan is more than $5,000.
Otherwise, credit officers go to the village or commune authorities and offer them a small bribe to put pressure on their cli-
ents.Consequently, borrowers must negotiate with local state authorities on their own terms. While in some cases these
authorities can be lenient, in Cambodia there is little recourse to the abuses of local state power to protect vulnerable bor-
rowers (Ovesen & Trankell, 2014).
Collateral thus acts as a technology of control in that it conditions people to become financial subjects who repay their
loans because they fear to lose land and homes (GarcíaLamarca & Kaika, 2016). In contrast with overt forms of disposses-
sion, collateral's power functions not through exclusion, but rather through the potential of exclusion. With no recourse to
legal due process, borrowers and their family members preemptively change their economic behaviour in order to repay
their loans. In this way, the power of collateral becomes naturalised, and thus invisible, by deflecting attention away from
property's exclusionary potential and onto individualsactions (Blomley, 2003).
Moreover, as a technology of control, collateral reinforces borrowersdependence on the wagelabour economy. Once
families take on loans using their home or land as collateral, most families will pursue alternative livelihood strategies to
hold onto their property. For many, land ownership is an integral component of the social bonds that hold together rural
communities. That is not to deny that many youth in Cambodia today aspire to the financial independence that wages pro-
mise (Bylander, 2015a; Peou, 2016). However, many of the youth who migrate to help their families repay their loans still
maintain aspirations to return to their home village at a later stage in the life course (Peou, 2016).
It is this relationship of control that helps to explain how land, labour, and social reproduction are tied together to pro-
duce value for financial investors (cf. Christophers, 2010). In Cambodia, people are repaying their loans not only through
the productive activity on the collateralised land, such as farming or business, but also through the work of multiple family
members, many of whom have migrated in search of waged work. Turning property into a technology of control means
that a powerladen network has been assembled in which a range of actors and a multiplicity of spaces are arranged in such
a way to discipline people to repay loans. The effect of this control is to ensure that finance's fictitious capital is able to re
appropriate the future value that it helped to set in motion (Harvey, 1982).
Since the 1990s, neoliberal thinkers and institutions have championed the propoor benefits of formal financial markets and
propertytitling programmes (Mitchell, 2009; Roy, 2010). In rural Cambodia, these two hegemonic development strategies
have dramatically reshaped rural economies. Millions of farmers in Cambodia now treat their land as a financial asset by
collateralising microfinance loans with their property title. This landed collateral helps to ensure that investors and share-
holders of internationallyowned MFIs receive large financial returns. Through an ethnography of microfinance and prop-
erty titling in Cambodia, this study provides a framework to understand how financialised property markets now constitute
an important part of the expansion of capital accumulation not only in Cambodia, but in many other places throughout the
Global South.
Specifically, I have shown how microfinance credit officers help to create new financial markets by establishing a capi-
talist regime of land value. By following credit officers like Dara through his assessment of borrowers, I have demonstrated
how his land valuation practices depend on a technical network of standardised loan forms, cadastral maps, and tax laws.
Moreover, credit officers must engage in daily social bricolage (Young et al., 2016). They gather information from village
chiefs, associates, and clients to ascertain what price for land will allow them to provision a loan that presents little risk of
default. Over time, credit officers have become essential actors in reconstituting land through new grids of evaluation. As
land is assembled into these social and technological networks, borrowers like Tiang must confront their land in new ways.
Land is measured, valued, and understood within transformed social relations it is not only a dwelling or farm, but a
potential asset to be mortgaged to gain access to credit.
This use of land as a financial asset is also predicated on a redistribution of power and control over property. ACLEDA
Bank and other MFIs are in the business of lending money that will be repaid. To ensure repayment, land is now required
as collateral on loans. These loan obligations are backed by contracts and local forms of power that discipline borrowers to
repay their loans. Most clients like Tiang know these conditions when they borrow money. The threat of land seizure
underpins many, though not all, familiesdecisions to seek out wage labour to repay loans. As such, microfinance exploits
the labour of various family members across diverse spaces. For these reasons, I have argued that property as a technology
of control reworks and respatialises social reproduction for the benefit of financial accumulation.
This study raises important questions about how rural people's relationship to land in the Global South is remade to
facilitate new financial accumulation. The continuing financialisation of many economies rests on creating assets legible to
investors. In places where people have not previously had the ability or inclination to treat their land as a financial asset,
new ways of valuing land have to be introduced. However, it is useful to remember that regimes of value, particularly
related to land, are never permanent (Bigger & Robertson, 2017; Li, 2014). The creation of financial assets rests on control-
ling, by means of state power and expert knowledge, social relations of property and reproduction (GarcíaLamarca &
Kaika, 2016). Contesting these powers of control is one way to challenge the expansion of finance capital.
Finally, this paper demonstrates the value of ethnographic methods for studying the diverse geography of financial mar-
kets. I have shown that by following both human and nonhuman actors, such as credit officers and land titles, we are able
to see the social and technical means by which global financial markets land on the ground in Cambodia (Li, 2014). More-
over, until now, much of the ethnographic focus of finance has been located in the financial trading centres of the Anglo
American capitalist core (Christophers et al., 2017). In contrast, I have used ethnographic methods to locate global
finance capital in peripheral spaces from the cramped back rooms where credit officers fill out paperwork to the rice
fields where they assess a field's agricultural quality. This grounded ethnographic approach will be valuable for studying
the uneven geographies of capital as more people and land continue to be included within formal finance markets.
I would like to acknowledge the financial support of the Fulbright IIE Student Program and the Center for Khmer Studies. I
am grateful for the valuable feedback provided by Jennifer Estes, Ian Baird, Will Shattuck, Stephen Young, and the partici-
pants of the University of WisconsinMadison's 2018 Upper Midwest Nature Society Workshop. Many thanks are also due to
all of the staff at the ACLEDA Bank credit department who took the time to teach me about their work. Finally, I appreciate
the three anonymous referees and the editor who all provided constructive comments on an initial draft of this article.
Due to the ethnographic nature of this research, supporting data cannot be made openly available. Interlocutors provided
their consent with the agreement that their anonymity would be guaranteed.
The name of this district, as well as all people's names in this paper, are pseudonyms to ensure anonymity of my interlocutors.
There are many different kinds of institutions that provide microfinanceloans according to the National Bank of Cambodia. More than half
of the number of loans ACLEDA Bank provides are classified as micro”‐loans, those less than $5,000, and its lending practices are similar to
other licensed microfinance institutions.
Although forced evictions are an important part of the overall titling story in Cambodia, in this paper it is not my focus. See Dwyer (2015) for
an introduction.
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... Geographical studies, however, have revealed that this conception of power is barely adequate and largely reticent about the actual sources and modus operandi of uneven power. On the one hand, there have been studies that reveal how associations between humans and nonhumans are involved in the production of coercive or disciplinary power (Green, 2019;McFarlane, 2009). On the other hand, ANT and assemblage thinking have been criticised for failing to engage with political-economic structures as the 'contexts of contexts' (Brenner et al., 2011;Christophers, 2014). ...
... In response to these criticisms, McFarlane (2011) suggests that assemblages enrol social, economic and cultural logics that express diverse life cycles and historical traces, therefore contributing to relational production of political economies and structures. Other works argue that the powers involved in defining framings and overflows are often derived from political-economic structures, state institutions and the sedimented histories of inequalities and struggles Christophers, 2014;Green, 2019;Ouma, 2015;Ouma et al., 2013;Werner et al., 2022). ...
State-promoted and market-oriented horticultural production has fundamentally reshaped land use and agricultural economy in peri-urban Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, China. This paper examines two scenarios amidst this transformation. In the first, peri-urban land has been valorised for vegetable production through the erection of greenhouses and the introduction of agronomic science. However, Tibetans refrain from participating directly, preferring to lease the land to Han migrants, and citing structural inequalities between Han and Tibetans and Tibetan work ethic as explanation. In the second, the municipal government is more proactive in introducing agro-science and providing technical training to enrol Tibetans. However, the participation of Tibetans is selective and partial, contingent on the same non-market rationalities that Tibetans invoke to justify non-participation in the first scenario. This paper explicates the diverging modes of participation for Tibetans by engaging with the Callonian approach on economisation and marketisation, and interrogating how socio-technical relations established among humans, material infrastructure and agro-science culminate in variegated calculative and non-calculative agencies. Focusing in particular on the structural relations and cultural conventions that frustrate the unilinear enactment of a market order, this study contributes to the geographies of marketisation in two ways. First, it works with an analytical framework centred on the ongoing dynamic of framing, overflowing and reframing to argue that the marketisation approach can be expanded to account for the encounters between market agencements and local socio-cultural contingencies. Geographically, second, it also contributes to the agenda of interrogating diverse market variants and the richness of economic differences in real space-times.
... Aunque se ha advertido que los consumidores difícilmente se encuentran realmente protegidos ante las inherentes relaciones asimétricas de poder en el sector financiero (Garz et al., 2021;Green, 2019;Karim, 2008), este tema todavía no ha recibido la suficiente atención en los debates sobre inclusión financiera. ...
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Los procesos para obtener la hoja de bijao, la cual se usa para envolver el bocadillo veleño, han cambiado a través de los años. La innovación ha permitido dar valor agregado al producto y a la cadena de producción de bocadillo veleño, una golosina tradicional colombiana. El objetivo central de este trabajo consistió en identificar los procesos y aspectos de innovación que han realizado los productores tradicionales de bijao y por los impulsores de innovación, y las áreas que requieren ser atendidas con futuras innovaciones que mejoren el desempeño del proceso. La metodología empleada comprendió revisión documental, entrevistas semiestructuradas, diagnósticos rápidos y ejecución de talleres participativos con integrantes de las asociaciones de productores de bijao en los municipios colombianos de Vélez (Santander) y Moniquirá (Boyacá), en los cuales participaron también diferentes actores relacionados que estaban presentes en el territorio. Con esto se identificó la manera como se ha venido innovando en la transformación de la hoja de bijao a través del tiempo y el impacto positivo que esto ha tenido en aspectos técnicos productivos, organizativos, comerciales y ambientales. También se identificaron algunas limitaciones en el trabajo en las organizaciones, como el trabajo en equipo, la baja motivación en los jóvenes para participar y la necesidad de fortalecer la cohesión social como organizaciones que permitan la búsqueda de nuevas oportunidades colectivas que lleven a una valoración más amplia sobre la labor que ha fortalecido la identidad del territorio a partir de la producción del bocadillo veleño.
... By accepting land titles to reduce the risk element in lending to a minimum, ACLEDA helped to ensure its rapid growth 7 Very soon after, smaller MCIs caught on to what ACLEDA was doing. By 2015 virtually all of Cambodia's leading MCIs were demanding land titles from clients in order to reduce the risks involved in providing microcredit [38] (p.57), [39], [40] (p.32). Progress was rapid: by the end of 2017, over 50 per cent of the then current 5 The LMAP scheme was found to have deliberately avoided working with one particular group of vulnerable people on account that their land was needed for a luxury real estate development project. ...
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Starting with the work of Hernando de Soto in the 1980s, the role of land tenure soon took centre-stage in a neoliberal-oriented theory of change based on the possession and use of private individual land titles by the poor. One of the major mechanisms proposed by de Soto involved a three step process whereby the poor (1) "secured" their tenure with land titles, (2) used their newly-acquired land titles as collateral to leverage large amounts of microcredit to be used to establish a functioning microenterprise, and then (3) escaped from their poverty due to the jobs and income associated with founding and running a microenterprise, and the all round wealth creation in the community, that it was assumed would be automatically generated. This paper explores this specific 'three steps to heaven' 2 theory of change proposed by de Soto, and thereafter taken on board with gusto by the major international development institutions, particularly the World Bank. With the largest microcredit sector in the world (on a per capita basis), a development that has been almost uniquely facilitated by the extensive use of land titles as collateral, Cambodia provides an ideal setting for testing this specific theory of change. The evidence to date, however, shows that after conferring some initial benefits on the poor in rural areas, the vastly expanded microcredit sector that began to emerge in the late 2010s appears to have played a quite deleterious role in the lives and communities of Cambodia's poor. I conclude that De Soto's 'three steps to heaven' claims are highly problematic in practice and reflect a fundamental misreading of the real institutional drivers of sustainable local economic development and poverty reduction.
... Whereas in the past farmers valued land based on its productive potential, increasingly they measure its value by the amount of money they can receive from mortgaging it for a microloan. In short, participant observation allowed me to uncover the processes, and meanings, of debt-driven agrarian change in contemporary Cambodia (Green, 2019;Green, 2020). ...
Participant observation involves visiting a social setting to research the people and their surroundings. It involves taking fieldnotes that can both describe the scene and be analyzed to uncover patterns, rhythms, flows, and power dynamics of social relations. The form and level of participation depends on the setting, the research questions, and the researcher’s positionality, all of which may change over time. Participant observation is a highly flexible research method that can adjust to changing conditions, relationships, and insights from the field. This flexibility requires reflexivity throughout the research process: from asking why you want to study this setting, to asking how your presence impacts those you encounter and how your positionality impacts the conclusions you draw. This chapter reviews how participant observation has been used in geography, both in the past and in recent scholarship, emphasizing the value of critical reflexivity. Finally, the chapter provides advice on the entire research process, from heightening observation skills and writing fieldnotes, to analyzing data and developing theory.
... Drawing from the interviews with indebted households, the concept of debt repayment at any cost has become the norm. The existing literature has shown that the debt repayment at any cost has coerced households especially the most vulnerable ones to resorting to risky coping strategies, such as land sale (Green, 2019(Green, , 2020bGreen and Bylander, 2021;LICADHO and Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, 2019), distress migration (Bylander, 2014;Green and Estes, 2018;IOM, 2019;LI-CADHO, 2020;Ovesen and Trankell, 2014), withdrawal of children from school or children dropping out of school (LICADHO and Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, 2019) and declining household nutrition through a reduction in food consumption (Seng, 2018). Engaging in such strategies makes debt-distressed households more vulnerable (see more details on this in Res, 2021a). ...
This chapter presents a case study on the financialization of development in Cambodia. It examines financial literacy as a tool in forming borrowers’ subjectivities. In order to do so, I observed 18 financial literacy training workshops (17 led by two major microfinance institutions (MFIs) and one led by a local non-governmental organization) and conducted 15 semi-structured interviews. These methods capture the process of forming subjectivities surrounding risk and debt responsibility. It also reveals how the local community either accepts or contests these formations. The data was collected between July and December 2017, in rural regions of Cambodia. The analysis shows that MFIs, through the discourse of an entrepreneurial mindset, attempt to construct a reality where risk and over-indebtedness are solely the responsibility of the borrower. The MFIs further this narrative by portraying over-indebted households as reckless and irresponsible. This chapter concludes that the observed financial literacy training merely serves as a tool to deepen the financialization of development in Cambodia. It deepens the financialization of development through reorienting development as a lack of financial resources. Such reorientation can impair citizens to imagine alternative possibilities for development which is beyond a lack of financial resource. In order to address this concern, the chapter suggests two possible alternatives: local communities could be strongly encouraged (1) to question the legitimacy and effectiveness of microfinance as a development strategy, and (2) to recognize that risks are often due to external forces. Through such countercurrent efforts, this chapter advocates for more solidarity with debt-distressed households to demand national mechanisms that allow systematic debt forgiveness, with a thorough evaluation and assessment tools.
... Our interviews focused on international investment into the sector, as well as the prudential and consumer protection regulations of the country's central bank. I also draw on my previous ethnographic research about microfinance, which examined the outcomes of household debt on rural livelihoods (Green 2019(Green , 2020Green and Bylander 2021;Green and Estes 2019). While I do not analyse this prior research explicitly in this paper, it nevertheless informs how I approached and interpreted my interviews. ...
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Financial inclusion is a leading driver of household debt across the global South. Although critical geographers have analysed this debt through the lens of financialisation, few have examined it in terms of monetary politics. This is a salient issue, because poorer nations often have limited control over their monetary policy due to their dependence on foreign currencies, which can adversely affect the structure of their financial markets. Building on the concept of monetary dependency from scholarship on financial subordination, I analyse the monetary politics of debt in Cambodia. Drawing on elite interviews and ethnographic research, I argue that Cambodia's extreme monetary dependence on the US dollar has shaped monetary and fiscal policies that compel poorer households to take on private debt to pay for their basic needs. This paper advances critical geographies of debt and development by studying financial subordination and its impact on financial inclusion in the global South.
... I have previously published about the relationship between microfinance and Cambodia's agrarian transformation. This research was based on long-term ethnographic research within a farming community and a local microfinance institution (Green 2019(Green , 2020a(Green , 2020bGreen and Bylander, 2021;Estes 2019, 2022). More recently, I have conducted interviews with national regulators, financial executives, investors, and civil society organizations involved with microfinance. ...
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Social impact investment for microfinance has become a dominant form of poverty regulation in the global south. These investments aim to alleviate poverty by extending financial services like credit to the world's poor, particularly smallholder farmers. The International Finance Corporation is a major player in this effort. It has channeled finance capital to microfinance institutions around the world through its Social Bond Program, among other mechanisms. In this paper, I analyze how the International Finance Corporation's impact investments depend on an ideological “way of seeing” poverty, informed by representations of agrarian landscapes, which mystifies the exploitative relations of microfinance debt. I term these representations duplicitous debtscapes. My analysis is based on research about Cambodia, where the International Finance Corporation is a key supporter of the country's biggest microfinance institutions. I argue that the duplicitous debtscapes of the International Finance Corporation and its Cambodian partners veil the conditions of production and social reproduction faced by indebted smallholder farmers, thereby legitimizing capital accumulation for impact investors. Yet these debtscapes are also contested. Thus, I further argue that the outcomes of debtscapes are shaped by the struggle over their representation. By studying impact investment in terms of the visual politics of debt, this paper contributes to scholarship about the financialization of poverty in development and financial geography.
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This Handbook examines the study of failure in social sciences, its manifestations in the contemporary world, and the modalities of dealing with it – both in theory and in practice. It draws together a comprehensive approach to failing, and invisible forms of cancelling out and denial of future perspectives. Underlining critical mechanisms for challenging and reimagining norms of success in contemporary society, it allows readers to understand how contemporary regimes of failure are being formed and institutionalized in relation to policy and economic models, such as neoliberalism. While capturing the diversity of approaches in framing failure, it assesses the conflations and shifts which have occurred in the study of failure over time. Intended for scholars who research processes of inequality and invisibility, this Handbook aims to formulate a critical manifesto and activism agenda for contemporary society. Presenting an integrated view about failure, the Handbook will be an essential reading for students in sociology, social theory, anthropology, international relations and development research, organization theory, public policy, management studies, queer theory, disability studies, sports, and performance research.
Digital platforms have changed how property is sold and valued in the Global North, yet little is known about digital tools in emerging land markets. Drawing on in situ and digital ethnography, we argue that Facebook plays a key role in making a new kind of market in Myanmar, one in which land is transformed into a speculative asset, exchanged across ever‐expanding networks. While commodification is familiar within longer histories of capitalism, this case highlights the significance of digital platforms to the contemporary remaking of property relations. Unlike classic cases of market‐making enabled by active state regulation, Myanmar’s digital land markets were forged in the context of state absence by brokers who harnessed the technological affordances of social media to increase the scale, scope and speed of transactions. This creative re‐appropriation of the platform forged new, unregulated digital markets that ultimately accumulated corporate profits and intensified participant risk.
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This paper tells a story of debt within a rural Cambodian family in order to understand how microfinance produces more‐than‐individual financial subjects that are entangled in changing social relations of dependency. We draw upon 20 months of joint ethnographic research in Cambodia, where the microfinance industry is one of the largest per capita in the world. Informed by Judith Butler's notions of precariousness and precarity, we argue that even in the context of deepening financialisation, people's lives remain dependent upon others, especially within families. We analyse how these family relations of dependency are reworked along generational lines and spatially stretched due to precarious economic conditions of indebtedness, household migration, and distant labour markets. We conclude that reframing financial subjectivity in terms of precariousness helps us to analyse the relationship between households and financial markets, as well as inform a critical politics of finance.
In 2006 the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh won the Nobel Peace Prize for its innovative microfinancing operations. This study of gender, grassroots globalization, and neoliberalism in Bangladesh looks critically at the Grameen Bank and three of the leading NGOs in the country. This book offers a new perspective on the practical, and possibly detrimental, realities for poor women inducted into microfinance operations. In a series of ethnographic cases, this book shows how NGOs use social codes of honor and shame to shape the conduct of women and to further an agenda of capitalist expansion. These unwritten policies subordinate poor women to multiple levels of debt that often lead to increased violence at the household and community levels, thereby weakening women’s ability to resist the onslaught of market forces. A compelling critique of the relationship between powerful NGOs and the financially strapped women beholden to them for capital, this book cautions us to be vigilant about the social realities within which women and loans circulate—realities that often have adverse effects on the lives of the very women these operations are meant to help.
People around the world are confused and concerned. Is it a sign of strength or of weakness that the US has suddenly shifted from a politics of consensus to one of coercion on the world stage? What was really at stake in the war on Iraq? Was it all about oil and, if not, what else was involved? What role has a sagging economy played in pushing the US into foreign adventurism? What exactly is the relationship between US militarism abroad and domestic politics? These are the questions taken up in this compelling and original book. In this closely argued and clearly written book, David Harvey, one of the leading social theorists of his generation, builds a conceptual framework to expose the underlying forces at work behind these momentous shifts in US policies and politics. The compulsions behind the projection of US power on the world as a "new imperialism" are here, for the first time, laid bare for all to see.
In this groundbreaking book, Frank K .Upham uses empirical analysis and economic theory to demonstrate how myths surrounding property law have blinded us to our own past and led us to demand that developing countries implement policies that are mistaken and impossible. Starting in the 16th century with the English enclosures and ending with the World Bank's recent attempt to reform Cambodian land law - while moving through 19th century America, postwar Japan, and contemporary China - Upham dismantles the virtually unchallenged assertion that growth cannot occur without stable legal property rights, and shows how rapid growth can come only through the destruction of pre-existing property structures and their replacement by more productive ones. He argues persuasively for the replacement of Western myths and theoretical simplifications with nuanced approaches to growth and development that are sensitive to complexity and difference and responsive to the political and social factors essential to successful broad-based development.