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Debts and Uncertainty: Circulation of Advance Money among Tourism Entrepreneurs in Agra, India

Anthropological Considerations of Production, Exchange, Vending and Tourism

ISBN: 978-1-78743-195-9, eISBN: 978-1-78743-194-2

ISSN: 0190-1281

Publication date: 10 August 2017



This chapter examines how the everyday interactions that are fostered with the circulation of debt impact the socioeconomic order in which they operate. Employing the theoretical framework of “circuits of commerce,” scholars have examined how social relations and economic activities intertwine, are negotiated and transformed through the circulation of debt. The focus of such studies has been on the motives of actors, such as the desire for relationship-making, and structural conditions, like the inaccessibility of formal institution, that necessitate the emergence of debt-centered circuits of commerce (Hampton, 2003; Heslop, 2016; James, 2014). However, such circuits also have broader impacts and affect socially pervasive moral evaluations and work cultures (Ho, 2009; Zelizer, 2011). Building on these findings, I examine commission-based alliances among showroom owners and tour guides in Agra’s tourism market to understand how “bad debt” between them shapes Agra’s local tourism economy.


This chapter is based on ethnographic research conducted in 2012–2013 with Agra’s tourism entrepreneurs, like showroom owners, tour guides, and convincers.


Entrepreneurs’ everyday practices around the circulation of debt impact how tourism in Agra is perceived and conducted. Although debt is initiated to mitigate uncertainty of getting clientele, its circulation exacerbates that very uncertainty.


This chapter contributes to the theory of economic practice, highlighting how economic actors, through their everyday practices, shape the macro-structure of the economic system in which they operate.




This chapter is based on ethnographic research, conducted as part of my doctoral fieldwork from June–August, 2011 to October 2012–August 2013 in the local tourism markets in Agra, India. Additional research for this chapter was conducted between September and October, 2015, supported by the Humane Studies Fellowship, 2015–2016. I presented a draft of this chapter at the American Anthropological Association’s Annual Meeting, 2015. Feedback received there were helpful in writing this chapter. I acknowledge the support of my advisor, Dr. Dolores Koenig, and my peers for their valuable inputs. Special thanks to Sean Furmage for patiently and diligently reading several drafts of this chapter and providing critical insights and endless support.


Bhandari, R. (2017), "Debts and Uncertainty: Circulation of Advance Money among Tourism Entrepreneurs in Agra, India", Anthropological Considerations of Production, Exchange, Vending and Tourism (Research in Economic Anthropology, Vol. 37), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 233-256.



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