Neoliberalism, microfinance, and inequality: feminist ethnography and social justice
Patricia Antoniello (Brooklyn College, CUNY)
Paper short abstract:
Is feminist ethnography on social justice undermined by a neoliberal focus on market solutions, especially microcredit for women living in poverty? This paper suggests microfinance creates new oppression and fails to alter the entrenched social, economic, and political determinants of inequality.
Paper long abstract:
Is feminist ethnography on social justice undermined by a neoliberal focus on market solutions, especially microcredit for women living in poverty? This paper examines how feminist ethnography with its core of social and political relevance contributes to an on-going analysis of microfinance and inequality. Microfinance delivers financial services to low-income clients or solidarity lending groups who traditionally lack access to banking and related services, in effect, microcredit draws those outside financial markets into debt. Almost thirty years of microfinance has done little to alter the entrenched social, economic, and political determinants of inequality that directly mediates women's well being in South Asia. Are there real on-the-ground advantages of women's microloans and income generation projects? Or, do these top-down neoliberal approaches circulate inequality and dispossession creating additional forms of economic and social oppression while masking the real sources of women's poverty— underlying caste and gender inequality? This paper suggests microcredit propounds the dominance of neoliberalism and reinforces the fundamen¬tally unequal relations between women, previously without credit or independent banking histories, who become debtors and creditors, such as, banks and burgeoning microfinance companies. In addition, it assesses the uneven and complex relationship between a white euro-American ethnographer collecting life histories of women living in rural Indian villages who participate in research that articulates what Craven and Davis (2013) call 'intimacies for political effect.' Ultimately, how does engaged feminist ethnography that interrogates neoliberalism and market solutions for women examine the parallel question of inequality while endorsing social and economic justice?
Feminist activist ethnography and social change