Society for the Anthropology of North America
Oral Presentation Session
Critical studies of development in the global South have called attention to the failure of existing modernization projects to deliver on promises of full employment in well-remunerated wage labor. Despite this shortfall in formal employment, non-normative labor forms have proliferated globally, alongside mass expansion of financial markets since the late twentieth century. In this paper, I take up these multiple trends as interrelated phenomena, inquiring into the work of finance in the extraction of value, where individuals labor outside of formal employment. The argument, in brief, is that manifold debt relations have facilitated an effective extraction of value from non-normative forms of capitalist labor in the informal economy. This argument contrasts with positions that see informal labor as non-capitalist, or posit such labor as lying outside class relations of exploitation. Ethnographically, I engage these issues through a study of heterogeneous livelihoods in a 2,000-household squatter settlement located in an industrial zone on the outskirts of Myanmar’s former capital, Yangon.