Intimate Economies of Development: Mobility, Sexuality and Health in Asia, 1st Edition (e-Book) book cover

Intimate Economies of Development

Mobility, Sexuality and Health in Asia, 1st Edition

By Chris Lyttleton


228 pages

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Aspirations, desires, opportunism and exploitation are seldom considered as fundamental elements of donor-driven development as it impacts on the lives of people in poor countries. Yet, alongside structural interventions, emotional or affective engagements are central to processes of social change and the making of selves for those caught up in development’s slipstream.

Intimate Economies of Development lays bare the ways that culture, sexuality and health are inevitably and inseparably linked to material economies within trajectories of modernization in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. As migration expands and opportunities proliferate throughout Asia, different cultural groups increasingly interact as a result of targeted interventions and globalising economic formations; but they do so with different capabilities and expectations. This book uniquely grounds its arguments in interlocking details of people's everyday lives and aspirations in developing Asia, while also engaging with changing social values and moral frameworks. Part and parcel of a widening landscape of mobility and contingent intimacy is the ever-present threats of infectious disease, most prominently HIV/AIDS, and human trafficking. Thus, impact assessment and targeted interventions aim to address negative consequences that frequently accompany infrastructure development and market expansion. This path-breaking book, drawn on more than 20 years of ethnographic research in the Mekong region, shows how current models of mitigation cannot adequately cope with health risks generated by wide-ranging entrepreneurialism and enduring structural violence as dreams of ‘the good life’ are relentlessly enmeshed in strategies of livelihood improvement.


A highly original and sometimes heartrending book. Lyttleton reconsiders the ways development projects and the global market are changing people’s lives in remote corners of Southeast Asia through the lens of intimacy and desire. In the context of development and migration, sex and affect are usually treated as epiphenomena of health, economics, or crime. Lyttleton places them at the centre, showing that intimate entanglements between strangers are crucial to understanding how contemporary globalisation actually works, not just in "global cities" but also along rural byways. Based on a deep understanding of the subject and written with palpable empathy, this is anthropology at its full potential.

–Pál Nyiri, Professor of Global History from an Anthropological Perspective, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam,

Simply outstanding. A real wakeup call demonstrating the energy, enthusiasm and creativity of poor people in Southeast Asia searching for a better life

–Peter Aggleton, Professor in Education and Health, University of New South Wales,

An original, provocative account of how individuals' desires and aspirations map onto and shape global circuits of value, development and modernization projects. Based on intensive, long-term fieldwork in places as diverse as rubber plantations to massage parlors located throughout the Greater Mekong sub-region, this "emotional" economy of development, where the material and the intimate intersect, provides rich theoretical insights and innovative methodological models for understanding the production and consumption of "progress."

–Peggy Levitt , Professor of Sociology, Wellesley College and Harvard University

This book offers fresh insight from the author’s long years of field research in Southeast Asia. The path-breaking connections between material and affective aspects of development allow us to probe deeper than is customary to understand the ‘side effects’ of development and clearly explain why many good projects failed miserably.

–Yos Santasombat, Professor of Anthropology, Chiang Mai University

As a theoretical achievement illustrating the role of emotion, pleasure and desire in

processes of peasant dispossession, Intimate Economies of Development is remarkable.

- Barbara Andersen (2017) Intimate Economies of Development: Mobility, Sexuality and Health in Asia, The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology

Table of Contents

Introduction 1. Ethnicity, Captical and the Architecture of Mobile Hopes and Dreams 2. Frontiers and Embodied Ambitions 3. Special Zones - Anomalous Spaces 4. Intimate Safeguards and Affective Politics of the Precariat 5. Poiesis of the Intimate Encounter: Dormitory Exchanges and Bed-sit Affairs 6. First do no Harm

About the Author

Chris Lyttleton is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Macquarie University, Australia.

About the Series

Routledge Studies in Development, Mobilities and Migration

This series is dedicated to the growing and important area of mobilities and migration, particularly through the lens of international development. It promotes innovative and interdisciplinary research targeted at a global readership. The series welcomes submissions from established and junior authors on cutting-edge and high-level research on key topics that feature in global news and public debate.

These include the so called European migration crisis; famine in the Horn of Africa; riots; environmental migration; development-induced displacement and resettlement; livelihood transformations; people-trafficking; health and infectious diseases; employment; South-South migration; population growth; children’s wellbeing; marriage and family; food security; the global financial crisis; drugs wars; and other contemporary crisis.

To submit proposals, please contact the Editor, Helena Hurd ([email protected]).

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Development / Economic Development
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Development / Sustainable Development
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Environmental Economics
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Public Policy / Environmental Policy
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Developing Countries