Poverty Capital: Microfinance and the Making of Development

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Taylor & Francis, Mar 3, 2010 - Social Science - 258 pages

This is a book about poverty but it does not study the poor and the powerless. Instead it studies those who manage poverty. It sheds light on how powerful institutions control "capital," or circuits of profit and investment, as well as "truth," or authoritative knowledge about poverty. Such dominant practices are challenged by alternative paradigms of development, and the book details these as well. Using the case of microfinance, the book participates in a set of fierce debates about development – from the role of markets to the secrets of successful pro-poor institutions. Based on many years of research in Washington D.C., Bangladesh, and the Middle East, Poverty Capital also grows out of the author's undergraduate teaching to thousands of students on the subject of global poverty and inequality.

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This book is embarrassingly bad. The author sets out to deconstruct how powerful global institutions like the World Bank produce knowledge about poverty and microfinance. The popular World Bank-approved truisms in this case are that, first, poverty is caused by lack of access to formal capital and markets and, second, that microfinance is the best way to fight poverty. The author does not deconstruct these truisms at all but takes them as fact, unwittingly swallowing, producing, and disseminating (in the form of this book) the very hegemonic knowledge she claims to critique. She disingenuously portrays two barely distinguishable positions on the methods of microfinance as if they were ideological opposites, seemingly unaware that she is enforcing the limits of debate as set by dominant global institutions. This alone discredits the book entirely, but there's more: inconsistent or incorrect use of terminology, introduction of empty and meaningless concepts (‘millennial development’, ‘poverty capital’), tokenistic use of interviews that would make even the laziest of journalists cringe, misinterpretation of known theorists (Gramsci, de Soto, Spivak), a confused and disorganised argumentation style full of contradictions that the author seems blissfully unaware of, and - the cherry on the sundae - the opening chapter’s completely un-ironic celebration of the commodification of poor women of colour is followed several chapters later by a critique of that very practice! The book's parroting of received knowledge makes it tempting to pass the author off as a shameless propagandist, but all these other problematic elements suggest an alternative explanation: the author is simply not very bright. 

About the author (2010)

Ananya Roy is Professor of City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley. She is also the founding chair of a new undergraduate curriculum in Global Poverty and Practice. At Berkeley, Roy is the recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award and Golden Apple Award for Outstanding Teaching, the highest teaching honors bestowed by the campus and its students. Roy's previous research has provided a close look at poverty and inequality in the cities of the global South.

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