Current Institutional Affiliation
Associate Professor, International Development, University of London / London School of Economics and Political Science

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2010
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, Brown University
Creditable Lives: Microfinance, Development and Financial Risk in India

Proponents of microfinance contend that financial inclusion mitigates socio-economic disparities by incorporating the poor into more efficient markets. However, the sustainability of microfinance institutions (MFIs), which mediate lending from commercial banks to the poor, requires the exclusion of those who fail to meet stringent risk criteria. Based on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Kolkata, India, this project looks at how borrowers and lenders of microfinance negotiate this tension between "financial inclusion" and exclusions informed by global financial norms and locally constituted ideas of creditability. While the enfolding of the poor into financial networks represents what some scholars have termed "financialization" of the world, I examine how these global financial regimes are understood, experienced and contended with locally. In India, women borrowers justify their loans in terms of their social obligations and identities as “good” wives, mothers, and neighbors, rather than just entrepreneurship; MFI field staff both exclude “risky” subjects and knowingly make loans for non-business purposes such as weddings and healthcare. This project examines how borrowers and lenders manage these often divergent ethics of financial sustainability and everyday obligations of personal relationships. In particular, how does formally determined creditworthiness intersect with the informal everyday ethics of kinship, community, and gender? Taking credit as a site of encounter between global finance, state and institutional regulations, and situated everyday practices, I aim to understand how MFIs come to know and select their “ideal” borrowers and how this process shapes—and is shaped by—new economic subjects.