The Big Society Debate

The Big Society Debate

A New Agenda for Social Welfare?

Edited by Armine Ishkanian and Simon Szreter

The book is divided into two sections, history and policy, which together provide readers with a historically grounded, internationally informed, and multidisciplinary analysis of the Big Society policies. The introduction and conclusion tie the strands together, providing a coherent analysis of the key issues in both sections. Various chapters in this study examine the limitations and consider the challenges involved in translating the ideas of the Big Society agenda into practice.

Chapter 14: From ‘Shock Therapy’ to Big Society: Lessons from the Post-Socialist Transitions

Armine Ishkanian

Subjects: social policy and sociology, comparative social policy


Armine Ishkanian INTRODUCTION A report titled International examples of Big Society initiatives published in January 2011 by the Office for Civil Society, Cabinet Office presents examples of ‘how Big Society is already at work around the world’ in order to ‘provide inspiration’ for UK policymakers (Riegert, 2011, p. 5). Among the examples cited is the Grameen Bank and its microcredit programmes in Bangladesh. Although the report’s author, Arnaud Riegert, recognises that ‘the impact of microcredit is still quite controversial’, he nevertheless argues there is evidence that with the aid of microcredit, women in poor communities in Bangladesh are working ‘without depending on usurers’ (Riegert, 2011, p. 23). Whether this work the women are engaging in – or indeed their access to microcredit – is pulling them out of poverty or empowering them in any way is left unanswered but it represents the dominant narrative, which valorises microcredit, portraying it as a panacea for the problems of poverty and underdevelopment worldwide. Since the 1997 Microcredit Summit in Washington DC, enthusiasm for microcredit as a universally applicable poverty alleviation has led to its introduction across the globe. Enthusiasts, Ruth Pearson argues, have pointed to the example of Grameen Bank’s microcredit programme in Bangladesh and urged other countries to follow suit as a means for diminishing the need for dependence on national and federal welfare systems (Pearson, 2000, p. 153). In spite of this enthusiasm, problems remain in theory and application of microcredit programmes. With reference to the Grameen Bank, a number of scholars have...

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