Community economies in Southeast Asia: a hidden economic geography

Katherine Gibson
Ann Hill
Lisa Law
Front cover of the Routledge Handbook of Southeast Asian Development

Researchers have long recognized practices of mutual aid, reciprocity and sharing as prevalent features of everyday community life in Southeast Asia. Such practices are often represented as persistent vestiges of pre-capitalist societies and variously categorized as aspects of 'informal economies,' 'patron-client' relations or 'social capital.' In debates about capitalist development these 'relict' practices are seen as standing in the way of modern economic growth, as something to be overcome or enrolled into the mechanics of transition to market capitalism - that is, they are harnessed into a narrative of either decline or transcendence. However, such a framing obscures the valuable role mutual aid, reciprocity and sharing may have played in shaping responses to social, economic, political and environmental threats over the long duree. It is clear that these practices contribute to local social safety nets and act to support households in the event of misfortune or calamity, even today (Ong and Curato 2015). While they may be ill fitted to capitalist development trajectories, they are well suited as survival strategies and may potentially contribute to development trajectories more suited to life in the Anthropocene, the age we have entered in which human systems have become a geological force capable of destabilizing earth systems (Steffen et al. 2015). This chapter outlines an intellectual framing that situates mutual aid, reciprocity, sharing and other 'community economic practices' within a diverse economy in which the trajectory of change is not dominated by the capitalist development narrative but is up for negotiation. 

Suggested citation

Gibson, K., Hill, A. and Law, L. 2017. ‘Community economies in Southeast Asia: a hidden economic geography.’ In A. McGregor, F. Miller and L. Law (Eds.), Handbook of Southeast Asian Development, London: Routledge. pp 131-141.