Playing in the Gray: Foreign Investments in Emerging and Frontier Markets


ACLS Fellowship Program




“Playing in the Gray” examines the hidden networks of global capitalism and shows how offshore investment vehicles connect economic elites from around the world to political elites and their brokers from less developed economies. Over the course of two years, I traveled more than 350,000 miles to conduct ethnographic observations and interviews with 300 individuals who facilitate the movement of capital around the world. Research subjects include private wealth managers, fund managers, chairpeople, local entrepreneurs, high-level executives, lawyers, bankers, auditors, and company secretaries, each of them playing an essential role in circulating concealed capital through global markets. Through this work, I connect offshore investment vehicles in places like the Cayman Islands, Samoa, and Panama to special purpose vehicles and holding companies in Singapore and Hong Kong, and ultimately to the risky markets onshore in Vietnam and Myanmar—two of Southeast Asia’s most active emerging frontier markets. “Playing in the Gray” provides an account of how people make markets though tactics of sabotage and coordination in small intimate networks where the friction between legal/illegal, moral/immoral, licit/illicit facilitates market-making in the new globalized economy.