Dr. Dennis Arnold is Assistant Professor (tenured) at the University of Amsterdam, Department of Human Geography, Planning and International Development. Dennis publishes and teaches on labor, migration and citizenship; global production network analysis; and geo-political economics of continental Southeast Asia. He does research in Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. His email address is D.L.Arnold@uva.nl, and his publications are available at: https://uva.academia.edu/DennisArnold.

Summary of Project:

Stunted Development and the Labour Geographies of Debt

Despite rapid and sustained GDP growth in many countries, it turns out that rising tides do not lift all boats. Indeed, many may in fact tread water or sink. Across much of the Global South low-value added manufacturing remains central to development planning and employment opportunities. For many, the transition to well remunerated work options remains elusive. Furthermore, a startling trend is that many workers in developing countries increasingly accumulate debts in order to participate in light manufacturing labour markets, finding sufficient livelihood options in neither industrial employment nor in agriculture. Focusing on case studies in Cambodia, the limited positive (individual, familial, national) developmental impact via labour market participation is the line of inquiry guiding the project.

Continental Southeast Asian economies are characterized by both low potential for value capture, low levels of firm, labour and state stability, and high degrees of external dependency in directing strategic coupling (Coe and Yeung 2015). The ultimate economic development objective has been transitioning from low- and mid- to higher-value added regional articulations within global production networks (GPN), yet this prospect remains far removed for both low and middle income economies in the cross-border subregion (Arnold and Campbell 2018). And in so far as intensified inclusion in GPNs is construed as development, then development has multiple deleterious outcomes (Campbell 2016).

My previous research has shown that the precarious terms in which workers’ are included in GPNs often reproduces poverty (Arnold 2017a; see also Rigg 2015), with the existence of the labouring poor being integral to development paradigms in late industrializing countries (Arnold 2018). Coe and Hess (2011) have called these tendencies the dark side of strategic coupling between GPNs and regions/territories. Scholars have only recently begun to focus on how GPNs interact with local contexts in ways that do not always lead to successful integration within high-value circuits (Bair and Werner 2011; Bair et al. 2013; Gutelius 2015).

Focusing on case studies of special economic zones located along prominent economic corridors, the project studies the ways in which precarious employment in key manufacturing sectors (i.e. in non-farm work) ripple back to the farm not only spatially and sectorally, but also socially in terms of the inter-generational transmission of livelihood risk. In other words, the objective is to study the mediating role of debt in spatially extended labour regimes that comprise workplaces and households.