14-15 December: Cross-border Exchanges and the Shadow Economy

IIAS workshop that will bring together scholars in the field to share insights and findings on cross-border activities and the shadow economy.

Leiden University
Gravensteen Room 111
Pieterskerkhof 6

For enquires about the workshop, please contact Martina van den Haak at m.c.van.den.haak@iias.nl

Registration is required. Please register by using the form on the IIAS website.


Transnational movement of goods, capital, and labor has become a taken-for-granted activity under globalization. Yet apart from sketchy records of criminal activities, cross-border exchanges through informal or illicit means are seldom studied. This is particularly so when many ordinary citizens (rather than gangsters alone) take advantage of the grey areas in unregulated transactions. While the scope and extent of such exchanges are believed to be extensive and sizable, there is a dearth of evidence for the organizations, transaction mechanisms, and processes of this shadow economy. Shadow economic activity has always been a characteristic feature of border economies. Given their unofficial or even illicit nature, transactions are usually based on networks and trust, and hence such informal economic behavior is also interpersonal, relational, and reciprocal in nature, in contrast to the impersonal and self-interest logic of formal economic exchange. Although falling outside of the formal regulatory regime, participants in various aspects of the shadow economy all seem to know how to play their parts, while transactions are conducted under specific norms and practices. The shadow economy is thus a highly organized and institutionalized one. What is intriguing is that the workings of these activities are perhaps no different from the formal economy. As such, activities in this shadow economy pose a subversive challenge to the boundary between formal and informal, and between shadow and the more open, free market economy.


The workshop aims to bring together scholars in the field to share insights and findings on cross-border activities and the shadow economy. Specifically, the workshop seeks to address the following questions: Examination of empirical cases of cross-border activities and the inner workings of the shadow economy thus arisen; Analysis of the institutional context or indeed institutional voids giving rise to such economic diversity in cross-border regions; Reflection on the existence of alternative kinds of transactions and economic exchanges that may pose challenge to the singular logic of free market transition.


There will be 16 presentations during the workshop. For the program and abstracts, please click here.


The workshop will be hosted by the International Institute for Asian Studies and is co-sponsored by the University of Macau and the Centennial College Hong Kong. The conveners are Tak-Wing Ngo (Erasmus University Rotterdam / University of Macau) and Eva Hung (Centennial College Hong Kong).

Last Modified: 30-11-2015