Microfinance and Its Discontents
Women in Debt in Bangladesh
A feminist critique of the much-lauded microcredit process in Bangladesh
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.
The author will donate all royalties received from sales of this book to Utsho, a slum children's school in Bangladesh.
"It is precisely because the microcredit mantra has been so endlessly repeated, often in place of actual empirical documentation to back its claims, that Microfinance and Its Discontents is so compelling. This is an outstanding, courageous, and path-breaking piece of scholarship; one that will doubtless unsettle the microcredit establishment, and by extension, key presumptions of neoliberal research agendas." —Kamala Visweswaran, University of Texas, Austin
In 2006 the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh won the Nobel Peace Prize for its innovative microfinancing operations. 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.
In a series of ethnographic cases, Karim shows how NGOs use social codes of honor and shame to shape the conduct of women and to further an agenda of capitalist expansion. These unwritten policies subordinate poor women to multiple levels of debt that often lead to increased violence at the household and community levels, thereby weakening women’s ability to resist the onslaught of market forces.
A compelling critique of the relationship between powerful NGOs and the financially strapped women beholden to them for capital, this book cautions us to be vigilant about the social realities within which women and loans circulate—realities that often have adverse effects on the lives of the very women these operations are meant to help.
It is precisely because the microcredit mantra has been so endlessly repeated, often in place of actual empirical documentation to back its claims, that Microfinance and Its Discontents is so compelling. This is an outstanding, courageous, and path-breaking piece of scholarship; one that will doubtless unsettle the microcredit establishment, and by extension, key presumptions of neoliberal research agendas.
Kamala Visweswaran, University of Texas, Austin
Lamia Karim has done an excellent job by juxtaposing facts against myths, lies against truths and objective research against subjective hagiographies. . . . I believe this book is an important addendum to the growing literature that demonstrates and deconstructs the lies and myths about microcredit and NGO business in Bangladesh and elsewhere in the Third World.
Her book is a timely contribution to the debate on microfinance, and is a challenging and engaging read for the specialist as well as the lay reader. I believe that her ideas will serve as a guideline for future researchers’ and policy-makers inquiries into the gender aspect of microfinance.
Soumya Mishra, Governance across Borders
Karim’s book serves as a stark and timely reminder of the value of ethnographic research in offering a deeper understanding of how developmental interventions in specific institutional and local contexts may reproduce or even exacerbate structural inequalities, and also in informing the strategies that seek to counter these inequalities.
Economic & Political Weekly
Her narrative is detailed, convincing, and clear, making it difficult to wave it aside as just another study pointing out microfinance’s impotence.
Women’s Review of Books
Lucidly written ... very provocative.
Microfinance and Its Discontents should stir the conscience of social scientists and development practitioners to look critically at the lives of women who are supposed to be liberated by neoliberal and other policy instruments. The book is written in a scholarly tone but contains a clearly immersed and empathetic voice that exposes microfinance as a measure that weakens rural social solidarity whilst creating new markets for multinational corporations. Not only is the book an excellent critique of the microfinance industry throughout, its conclusion provides a series of thought provoking topics for discussion on how to enhance transparency and accountability in the microfinance industry of Bangladesh.
Journal of International Women’s Studies
This anthropological study has proven to be a very worthwhile contribution to a better understanding of the social, economic, and political characteristics embedded in the microfinance industry—a much needed study.
Political and Legal Anthropology Review
In sum, this is profoundly provocative ethnography that tackles critical contemporary questions and deserves to be read for many years to come.
Lamia Karim has written a thoughtful study that applies the analytical concept of governmentality to microfinance in Bangladesh.
Introduction: Neoliberalism, Microfinance, and Women’s Empowerment
1. The Structural Transformation of the NGO Sphere
2. The Research Terrain
3. The Everyday Mediations of Microfinance
4. The Social Life of Debt
5. NGOs, Clergy, and Contested “Democracy”
6. Power/Knowledge in Microfinance
Conclusion: From Disciplined Subjects to Political Agents?
Glossary of Bengali Words
12/26/2012 - Lamia Karim has committed to donate royalties from Microfinance and Its Discontents to a school for underprivileged children in Bangladesh.
The rise and fall of Muhammad Yunus is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.
In the Bengali culture of irsha (envy), it was only a matter of time before the ire of the Prime Minister would fall on the Nobel laureate. After all, Yunus, the darling of the international development set of heads of states, CEOs, and philanthropists, went to places that no Bangladeshi had gone before—Oslo for a Nobel; Davos; meetings with heads of states; not to mention his personal friendship with the Clintons! Yunus is most famous person in Bangladesh and has brought fame and recognition to the country. He is also a global leader of the microfinance movement, and his removal may send shudders through the industry—especially in Bangladesh.