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The Australian National University

Dr Caroline Schuster

PhD, University of Chicago, MA University of Chicago, BA Stanford University
Lecturer, School of Archaeology and Anthropology
ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences

Research interests

Economic anthropology, value, credit and debt; microcredit, NGOs and development policy; gender, kinship, feminist theory; Latin America, Paraguay tri-border area

I completed my PhD in Anthropology at the University of Chicago in 2012, where my thesis was awarded the year’s Richard Saller Prize for most distinguished dissertation in the Division of Social Sciences. As a postdoctoral scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies I spent two years in research residence completing my recent book, Social Collateral: women and microfinance in Paraguay's smuggling economy (2015, University of California Press). The project is part of a sustained research interest in gender and finance, and in the social life of community-based economic projects in the hyper-liberalized contexts of Latin American borders.

Social Collateral tracks collective debt across the commercial society and smuggling economies at the Paraguayan border by examining group loans made to women by nonprofit development programs. These highly regulated loans are secured through mutual support and peer pressure—social collateral—rather than through physical collateral. This story of social collateral necessarily includes an interwoven account about the feminization of solidarity lending. At its core is an economy of gender—from pink-collar financial work, to men’s committees, to women smugglers. At stake are interdependencies that bind borrowers and lenders, financial technologies, and Paraguayan development in ways that structure both global inequality and global opportunity.

A podcast highlighting my research on alternatives to austerity measures is available for download from the London School of Economics (9 June 2016):

You can read more about my engaged anthropology projects on gender justice in Paraguay at the Wenner Gren foundation blog:

Upcoming projects suppoted by an ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award will continue my longterm engagement with financial systems in Latin America. Future ethnographic research will focus on the development of insurance products to cover extreme weather events in Paraguay.

Available student projects

Available to supervise students in economic anthropology, anthropology of finance, gender and sexuality studies, and Latin American studies.

Current student projects

James Debowski (Endeavour Scholar 2016), "Contesting Community Management: Social infrastructures and relational systems in horizontal project and resource management"

Kathleen Varvaro, "Social conflicts regarding wildlife: Causes, management and mitigation"

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Updated:  23 April 2017 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers