April 12, 2019
Field Methods Workshop
Kimberly Hoang (Chicago)
"Playing in the Gray: Offshoring and Foreign Investment in Frontier Markets"
Playing in the Gray is a comparative study of global capital flows. Innovating ethnographic methods, I traveled over 350,000 miles to map a network of global investors. The book traces the flow of capital from offshore funds in places like the Cayman Islands, Samoa, and Panama to special-purpose vehicles or holding companies in Singapore and Hong Kong, before they were invested in risky markets onshore in Vietnam and Myanmar. I illustrate how investors capitalize on frontier markets—where rule of law is absent, regulations can quickly change, government intervention is high, and corruption is rife. Drawing on interviews with over 300 financial professionals including— private wealth managers, fund managers, chairpeople, local entrepreneurs, C-suite executives, lawyers, bankers, auditors, and company secretaries—this is the first known global ethnography to include extensive interviews with a diverse set of professionals who operate in the space fraught with friction between legal and illicit activity as they move capital around the world. By triangulating concepts in the humanities, economics, and law, Playing in the Gray book moves from a macro-level perspective of global capital flows, to a meso-level analysis of how firms syndicate risk through complex offshoring structures as they set up tax structures across multiple jurisdictions, and finally to a micro-level analysis of individual actors moral regimes of justification and their personal experiences of feast and famine in navigating gray economies.