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Caroline Schuster

Senior Lecturer, School of Archaeology and Anthropology; Director, Australian National Centre for Latin American Studies, Australian National University

I expanded my research on microcredit programs in Latin America in graduate school at the University of Chicago where I pursued by PhD in cultural anthropology from 2005-2012. My interest in informal markets, and particularly women’s livelihoods, drew me to Ciudad del Este, the famous free trade zone on Paraguay’s Triple-Frontier with Argentina and Brazil. Microcredit is part of a global trend of financial inclusion that brings banking services, especially small loans, to the world’s poor — but how do these cooperative development projects work in a place like Ciudad del Este, which is awash in black money and the profits of contraband? Crucially, how do these highly feminised loans targeted at women's entrepreneurial potential reshape gender relations in Paraguay's smuggling economy?

In addition to my work on gender and economic anthropology, as a researcher at Harvard University’s Weatherhead Centre for International Affairs, where I was a Fellow of the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies from 2012-2014, I focused on social theory and research methodologies. Building on that scholarly agenda, I have co-authored a project with Dr. Sohini Kar on research methods in social studies of finance and collaborated with Dr. Jesse Driscoll on the politics and ethics of conducting research in high-risk settings.

Since joining the School of Archaeology and Anthropology in the College of Arts and Social Sciences at the ANU in 2014, I have broadened my research focus to research the expansion of financial systems in Latin America. There is a growing consensus that unfettered markets in Paraguay offer a preview of the shape risk and vulnerability might take globally in ever-more deregulated financial systems and development settings. Paraguayans’ diverse processes of insuring against future damage afford an opportunity to address a basic question rarely posed in debates about crises, both economic and environmental: What social and cultural processes do the work of transforming environmental damages into other forms of value in contemporary capitalism? My Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA, 2017-2020), "Insurance and disaster relief: using the anthropology of finance to rethink climate change adaptation” explores disaster capitalism and the financialization of local risk-mitigation strategies in the context of our ever more unstable climate.


  • –present
    Lecturer, School of Archaeology and Anthropology, Australian National University