Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, The New School
Earth Science and Risk Transfer Financial Service Networks in Southeast Asia

The dissertation project documents the work of earth and actuarial scientists involved in different stages of reinsurance and intermediary risk transfer financial service and technology design. It draws on ethnographic research in Singapore and Indonesia with reinsurers, risk analytics firms, earth science institutes, and financial services authorities. The project examines how environmental problems (tsunamis, earthquakes, ash plumes, floods) are remediated into scientific and financial information and the forms of value that emerge from related insurance technologies and practices of capital market securitization. The research is located in Southeast Asia, along the Malay Archipelago, where the availability of reinsurance services for environmental and climate risk is extremely low. This is described as the “Insurance Protection Gap” by public and private sector actors to promote the gap between insured and uninsured losses and between insurance payouts and actual losses (what’s known as “basis risk”) as a market access and development opportunity. My research aims to show how the protection gap is performed and serviced by a global industry of non-bank financial institutions and intermediaries that domicile in Singapore in search of yield across the archipelago, i.e., to construct, extract, and securitize future revenue streams (insurance premiums). Moreover, it explores how these institutions rely on a network of legacy firms and service providers in the region that make and transfer risk, including domestic insurers, regulators, risk pools, and brokers, as well as emerging actors that are actively renovating the concept and practice of insurance, such as actuaries retrained as data scientists, underwriting analytics InsurTech firms, and earth scientists whose remote sensing research and infrastructure is refigured as actionable parameters and evaluations of risk. Drawing on literature and methods from the anthropology of science and value, social studies of finance, and postcolonial histories of environment, science, and risk, the dissertation provides an ethnographic account of the recent history of these insurance developments and innovations, focusing on the period after the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami.