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Microfinance and Its Discontents

Microfinance and Its Discontents: Women in Debt in Bangladesh

Lamia Karim
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Microfinance and Its Discontents
    Book Description:

    This path-breaking study of gender, grassroots globalization, and neoliberalism in Bangladesh looks critically at the Grameen Bank and three of the leading NGOs in the country. Amid euphoria over the benefits of microfinance, Lamia Karim offers a timely and sobering perspective on the practical, and possibly detrimental, realities for poor women inducted into microfinance operations.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-7673-6
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction Neoliberalism, Microfinance, and Women’s Empowerment
    (pp. xiii-xxxiv)

    Neoliberalism rests on the idea that human interest is best served through the withdrawal of the state from welfarist policies.¹ It is an economic order based on competition, efficiency, and entrepreneurship. This book is an ethnographic study of neoliberalism, microfinance nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and gender in Bangladesh. It examines the effects of the discourses, policies, and practices of microfinance NGOs on the lives of rural women in Bangladesh. Microfinance NGOs promote the idea that the borrower knows best, and that the state should withdraw from the sphere of economic activities, leaving it to the unseen hand of the market. Microcredit...

  6. Chapter 1 The Structural Transformation of the NGO Sphere
    (pp. 1-34)

    This chapter recounts how Bangladesh, labeled as a failed state, became the paradigmatic site for one of the most sophisticated NGO sectors in the world, and the heartland of the microfinance revolution. Here I analyze the processes that were set in place in the 1970s, 1980s, and the 1990s that aided in the creation of an independent and Western-funded NGO sector in Bangladesh. In each of these decades, programs and policies were implemented that introduced rules, procedures, tensions, and alliances among the state, international development agencies, the clergy, and the NGOs. I examine how these alliances and accommodations led to...

  7. Chapter 2 The Research Terrain
    (pp. 35-64)

    This chapter is an overview of the research terrain that informed my ethnographic study of NGOs, microfinance, and women. Through their work in microfinance, the leading NGOs have a dual effect on social lives: they bring economic opportunities to rural people and, simultaneously, introduce them to NGO-sponsored programs. The power of these NGOs as service and loan providers to financially strapped poor women creates what I term “NGO governmentality,” a mode of governance through which NGOs modulate the behaviors of their rural clients toward NGO objectives. I found that NGOs achieved their goals primarily through compliance rather than through coercion,...

  8. Chapter 3 The Everyday Mediations of Microfinance
    (pp. 65-94)

    As the ngo sector expanded in the twenty-first century, Bangladeshi NGOs have diversified into financial services and social business enterprises (SBEs) in telecommunications, Internet services, solar energy, and packaged foods. As discussed in chapter 1, the Grameen Bank and the leading NGOs have created a consumer base made up of millions of poor borrowers and their families that remains dependent on these institutions for loans, jobs, and services that are channeled through the NGO sector. NGO governmentality operates through a careful exploitation of this relationship of dependency with their borrowers at the grassroots. Chapters 3 and 4 examine how these...

  9. Chapter 4 The Social Life of Debt
    (pp. 95-132)

    This chapter analyzes the relations between microfinance and women by examining eight case studies. Taking governmentality as a formal structure of analysis, I examine how NGO loans with their accompanying norms intersect the lives of women who are also governed by rules and obligations. While debt ties multiple people together in mutually reinforcing reciprocities, it simultaneously reconstructs the fields within which individual borrowers are situated, and circumscribes the forms of conduct within these intersecting domains. In this integration of dependencies, the actions of distant people can and do have effects on the livelihoods of individual borrowers and their families. Thus,...

  10. Chapter 5 NGOs, Clergy, and Contested “Democracy”
    (pp. 133-162)

    In this chapter, I examine a conflict between Proshika and the clergy of a prominent madrassah known as Jamia Yunusia Islamia Madrassah over rural women’s right to participate in a rally. The madrassah (hereafter called Yunusia) is located in Brahmanbaria, which is 150 kilometers northeast of Dhaka. Pirpur Thana is situated far from Brahmanbaria, in the southwestern part of the country, and it had no role in this conflict. As my analysis shows, the ability of NGOs to steer their female clients toward NGO goals took a particularly poignant expression in this conflict with the clergy.

    Since the 1990s, Proshika...

  11. Chapter 6 Power/Knowledge in Microfinance
    (pp. 163-190)

    In this chapter, I return to an examination of the powers that hold together the discursive forms of knowledge production. In doing so, I examine the actors and institutions that participate in the making of poverty research. Let me begin then with the following observation: How did Bangladesh—a country of 150 million people with its long history of peasant movements, its nationalist struggle against Pakistani domination, the amazing capacity of its people to rebuild their lives every year after natural catastrophes, its Sufi culture, music of the Bauls, and the poetry of Tagore and Jibanonondo—become synonymous with abject...

  12. Conclusion From Disciplined Subjects to Political Agents?
    (pp. 191-206)

    As the microfinance industry has expanded in the twenty-first century, it has created networks among NGOs, international development organizations, governments, multinational corporations, and rich investors and poor people, bringing them into closer alliances and dependencies. These developments in financial networking between northern and southern countries will have significant impact on economy, state, and the lives of their citizens. In this new economic arrangement where businesses and NGOs form partnerships, Bangladeshi NGOs and poor Bangladeshis have again emerged as the paradigmatic site and subjects for the testing of these relationships and products for the poor.

    The four organizations I studied have...

  13. Glossary of Bengali Words
    (pp. 207-210)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 211-242)
  15. Index
    (pp. 243-255)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 256-256)