Download the full-sized PDF of The Ethnography of Violent Economies: Neoliberalism, Microcredit NGOs, Power Inequalities, and Capability Deprivations in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, BangladeshDownload the full-sized PDF



Permanent link (DOI):


Export to: EndNote  |  Zotero  |  Mendeley


This file is in the following communities:

Graduate Studies and Research, Faculty of


This file is in the following collections:

Theses and Dissertations

The Ethnography of Violent Economies: Neoliberalism, Microcredit NGOs, Power Inequalities, and Capability Deprivations in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh Open Access


Other title
Women's empowerment
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Ali, H M Ashraf
Supervisor and department
Vallianatos, Helen
Examining committee member and department
Forth, Gregory (Anthropology, University of Alberta)
Hill, Joseph (Anthropology, University of Alberta)
Helen Vallianatos (Anthropology, University of Alberta)
Lowrey, Kathleen (Anthropology, University of Alberta)
Feldman, Shelley (Department of Development Sociology and Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies at Cornell University)
Krogman, Noami (Resources Economics and Environmental Sociology, University of Alberta)
Department of Anthropology

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
During the 1990s, microcredit, also known as “microfinance,” received global recognition as an effective social and economic development tool from major international development institutions and donor agencies, including the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. The incorporation of microcredit into local and global development approaches was based on the core neoliberal ideology that the poor’s participation in microcredit would eventually enable them to achieve economic self-reliance and that it would remove constraints of gender injustice. Over the last decade, many empirical studies on microcredit program impacts have been conducted across the globe. These studies produce contrasting scenarios: one group of studies claim that microcredit has a revolutionary effect in the alleviation of poverty and in the achievement of gender equity while other studies challenge this view and contend that microcredit traps poor women into further debt and poverty. Little is known about how intersections between local social structures and values, power asymmetries among different ethnicities in addition to gender and social class, and neoliberal economic structures (including microcredit NGOs) concurrently affect the poor’s ability to escape poverty. This study fills this knowledge gap by investigating why poor women of different ethnicities continue to participate in microcredit programs in a particular research setting in Bangladesh. Microcredit participants’ perspectives on stories of success and failure are contrasted with local NGO officials’ explanations and compared to theoretical perspectives of poverty as individual and structural problem. I also address the question of how the poor would live if there were no microcredit in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh. Ethnographic data were collected between May 2009 and July 2011. Anthropological research methods including participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and focus group interviews were used. My research findings demonstrate that while NGOs succeed in protecting their interests manipulating women borrowers, they largely fail to achieve the goals of the alleviation of poverty and gender equity. The study shows that poor women’s continuation with microcredit programs is shaped by factors such as NGOs’ mandatory policy for providing microcredit to women instead of men, intense desire for a better socioeconomic life, current socioeconomic standing of households, male domination, and increased household debt resulting in male relatives’ business failure and in the use of the loan for everyday consumption. My research contributes to a growing range of work that has critiqued the narrative of microfinance as an exemplary anti-poverty tool by uncovering how various cultural and structural factors shape poor women’s continuation with microcredit programs and their experiences of injustices such as poverty and gendered domination. Theoretical contributions of my findings are applicable to the fields of development anthropology, poverty and gender studies, particularly at how histories of power relations propagate socioeconomic norms, and how women and their families negotiate these power relations in their everyday lives. Findings also provide pragmatic ideas for how microcredit programs can be improved in the CHT.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
Citation for previous publication
2014a Blaming the Poor and Legitimizing Coercive Loan Recovery Strategies: Unveiling the Dark Side of NGO Practices in Bangladesh. Anthropologica 56(1): 179-93.2014b Microcredit and power: examining how and why women encounter domination in Bangladesh. Development in Practice 24 (3): 327-338.2013 Why can’t you pay if you can eat? Tales of How Women Encounter Unpleasant NGO Practices in Bangladesh. Student Anthropologist 3(2): 7-26.

File Details

Date Uploaded
Date Modified
Audit Status
Audits have not yet been run on this file.
File format: pdf (PDF/A)
Mime type: application/pdf
File size: 6212911
Last modified: 2016:06:24 17:42:01-06:00
Filename: ALI_H M ASHRAF_201508_PhD-1.pdf
Original checksum: 26fc0c556dbc39c6bf2cd565c0ef3f6f
Activity of users you follow
User Activity Date