The Contested Legacies of Indigenous Debt Bondage in Southeast Asia: Indebtedness in the Vietnamese Sex Sector

Lainez, Nicolas (2018), The Contested Legacies of Indigenous Debt Bondage in Southeast Asia: Indebtedness in the Vietnamese Sex Sector. American Anthropologist. doi:10.1111/aman.13105

Abstract

The modern‐slavery paradigm promotes analogies between contemporary trafficking and the transatlantic, white, and indigenous slave trade. The analogy some scholars use to address debt bondage in past and present Southeast Asia prompted me to consider the hypothesis that the debts incurred by Vietnamese sex workers with moneylenders, procurers, and migration brokers are a remnant of indigenous slavery. However, the ethnographic and legalistic study of debt in the Vietnamese sex sector across Southeast Asia in relation to debt‐bondage traditions provides limited support to the transhistorical thesis. Nonetheless, it throws light on the creditor–debtor relationship and shows that sex workers need credit to finance production and social reproduction in a region undergoing rapid capitalist development, and that because of their exclusion from financial, labor, and labor migration markets, they access it through personalized arrangements that generate strong obligations and dependencies with the potential for restrictions of freedom, in a social structure that promotes patronage, vertical bonding, and dependency.

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