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

  • Author / Creator
    Ali, H M Ashraf
  • 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.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    2015-11
  • Type of Item
    Thesis
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
    https://doi.org/10.7939/R3K931F32
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
    English
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
    Doctoral
  • Department
    • Department of Anthropology
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
    • Vallianatos, Helen
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Hill, Joseph (Anthropology, University of Alberta)
    • Krogman, Noami (Resources Economics and Environmental Sociology, University of Alberta)
    • Feldman, Shelley (Department of Development Sociology and Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies at Cornell University)
    • Lowrey, Kathleen (Anthropology, University of Alberta)
    • Helen Vallianatos (Anthropology, University of Alberta)
    • Forth, Gregory (Anthropology, University of Alberta)