Alvin Camba

Assistant Professor

What I do

I study the political economy of development, examining how countries in the Global South pursue development in the context of China’s rise. Using mixed-methods approaches and focusing on maritime Southeast Asia, I look at various themes, particularly inter-elite competition, institutional change, social conflicts, ecological ramifications, and growth strategies across host country sectors. My new research projects explore three interrelated themes: (1) illicit capital; (2) maritime disputes and capital inflows; and (3) the cement-steel-infrastructure interface.

Specialization(s)

Political economy; development; political sociology; extractive politics; China-Southeast Asia

Professional Biography

I received my PhD in Sociology from Johns Hopkins University. I am currently a faculty affiliate at the Climate Policy Lab at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security & Diplomacy, and a non-resident fellow at the Stratbase-Alberto Del Rosario Institute (ADRi) in the Philippines, and the Paramadina Public Policy Institute (PPPI) in Indonesia. I was previously a fellow at the Global Development Policy Center at Boston University and the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore.

I have been awarded multiple best graduate research paper awards by sections of the American Sociological Association (ASA), funded by foundations or research institutions (e.g. The Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, The Smith Richardson Foundation, Southeast Asia Research Group), and contributed to policy reports (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Center for Integrated and Private Enterprises). My work on Chinese capital in Southeast Asia has been published in top development journals, such as Review of International Political Economy, Development and Change, Environmental Policy and Governance, and Resources Policy. I have presented my work at the World Bank, AidData, and the US State Department. I have been interviewed by The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, as well as consulted by Southeast Asian politicians and policy makers about China’s growing role in Southeast Asia.

Degree(s)

  • Ph.D., Sociology, The Johns Hopkins University, 2021
  • MA, Sociology, Binghamton University, 2015
  • AB, Economy and Society, University College London, 2012

Professional Affiliations

  • American Sociological Association
  • International Studies Association
  • Eastern Sociological Association

Media Sources

Research

I study how countries in the Global South pursue development in the context of China’s rise.

My first and ongoing book project develops the concept of the “Strong leader trap.” I argue that China – in this case, the Chinese Communist Party leadership and the key ministries - seeks and befriends “strong leaders” through major foreign direct investment (FDI) and development finance projects in hopes of securing protection for Chinese firms. This book project uncovers the unintended consequences of China's strategy of deliberately working with a "strong leader."

Second, working with the Climate Policy Lab at Tufts University, I am examining the “cement-steel-infrastructure” interface of the Belt and Road Initiative. I content that the literature on decarbonization and energy transitions focuses on the energy system but misses out on the complimentary industries that generate massive amounts of CO2 emissions and inextricably linked with the "infrastructure development” aspirations of many countries in the Global South. Here, I am looking at the domestic expansion of cement and the outward expansion of steel industries in the Global South that generate these emissions.

In my final project, I am looking at the long-term project on illicit capital. Specifically, through a variety of methods, I'm tracing money laundered out of China and into the offshore financial centers and then the Global South, often moving into “shady” sectors such as online gambling, wildlife smuggling, and land speculation. Apart from these, I have finished multiple projects related to Chinese capital inflows and the South China Sea, Chinese investments in key sectors - nickel mining, industrial parks, and real estate – as well as trace the transformation of elite politics in key Southeast Asian states.

Featured Publications

Camba, A. J. A. (2021). How Chinese firms approach investment risk: strong leaders, cancellation, and pushback. Review of International Political Economy.
Camba, A. J. A., Gomez, T., Khaw, R., & Cheong, K. -C. (2021). Strongmen politics and investment flows: China's investments in Malaysia and the Philippines. Journal of the Asia Pacific Economy.
Wijaya, T., & Camba, A. J. A. (2021). The politics of public-private partnerships: state-capital relations and spatial fixes in Indonesia and the Philippines. Territory, Politics, and Governance.
Camba, A. J. A. (2021). Sinews of politics: State Grid Corporation of China, investment coalitions, and embeddedness in the Philippines. Energy Strategy Review, 35.
Camba, A. J. A., & Magat, J. (2021). How do investors respond to territorial disputes? Evidence on the South China Sea and implications on Philippine economic strategy. Singapore Economic Review, 66(01), 243-267.
Camba, A. J. A. (2020). The sino-centric capital export regime: State-backed and flexible capital in the Philippines. Development and Change, 51(4), 970-997.
Camba, A. J. A., & Li, H. (2020). Chinese workers and their "linguistic labour": Philippine online gambling and zambian onsite casinos. China Perspectives, (4), 39-47.
Camba, A. J. A., Tritto, A., & Silaban, M. (2020). From the postwar era to intensified Chinese intervention: Variegated extractive regimes in the Philippines and Indonesia. The Extractive Industries and Society, 7(3), 1054-1065.

Presentations

Camba, A. J. (2021). “The ‘Strong Leader’ Trap: The Unintended Consequence of China’s Global Investment Strategy. Politics and Society Lecture Series. Canberra, Australia (zoom): The Australian National University, Bell School.
Camba, A. (2021). The Cement-Steel-Infrastructure Interface in the Philippines. Climate Policy Lab Research Seminar. Medford, Massachusetts (zoom): Climate Policy Lab, Tufts University.
Camba, A. J. (2021). “The ‘Strong Leader’ Trap: The Unintended Consequence of China’s Global Investment Strategy. Politics and Society Lecture Series. Canberra, Australia (zoom): The Australian National University, Bell School.
Camba, A. (2021). The ‘Strong Leader’ Trap: The Unintended Consequence of China’s Global Investment Strategy. Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Cluster Lecture Series. Singapore (zoom): National University of Singapore.
Camba, A. (2021). Geoeconomics in the Asia-Pacific: Philippine Perspective. National Security Studies Program . Metro Manila (zoom): The National Defense College of the Philippines (.
Camba, A. (2021). How Rodrigo Duterte Bent Chinese Dam Builders to his Will. 7th SAIS-CARI Conference. Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC, USA,: SAIS-CARI .

Awards

  • 2021 Terence K. Hopkins Best Graduate Student Paper Award, American Sociological Association’s Section on Political Economy of World-System (PEWS).
  • 2021 Elise Boulding Student Paper Award, , American Sociological Association’s Section on Peace, War, and Social Conflict.
  • 2018 Outstanding Graduate Student Paper Award (Honorable Mention)
  • 2018 The Szymanski-Young Graduate Student Paper Award, , American Sociological Association’s Section on Marxist Sociology
  • 2016 Critical Realism’s Publication Recognition Award for Postdoctoral and Graduate Students (Honorable Mention), Critical Realism Research Network