Edited by Trevor Hopper, Mathew Tsamenyi, Shahzad Uddin and Danture Wickramasinghe
Chapter 10: Empowering or Oppressing: The Case of Microfinance Institutions
Kerry Jacobs, Mohshin Habib, Nzilu Musyoki and Christine Jubb INTRODUCTION This chapter examines the origins of microfinance and the institutions which provide it, and it gives an overview of the research literature, showing the contradictory and competing objectives of microfinance institutions caught between the objective of poverty reduction and the pressures for profitability. Notions of field, capital and habitus are used to theorize the influences and impact of microfinance institutions on the poor and to explain in particular the role of accounting at the boundary and interface of different fields. The actual processes associated with microfinance are explored in three case studies of microfinance clients and three of microfinance lenders. From these cases it becomes evident that much of the accounting and controlling process is privatized to the individuals involved in the microfinance borrowing groups which monitor and control each other because they often share liability for loan repayment. While this can be empowering and supportive in some settings, it is also clear that there is potential for exploitation and abuse. While accounting is sometimes represented as a tool of oppression or exploitation it has also been argued that it can function as a tool of social betterment (Gallhofer and Broadbent, 1997). Few other examples illustrate so clearly the balance between an empowering and an oppression role for financial models and institutions as the case of microfinance. Over the last two decades microfinance institutions have become one of the most notable responses to poverty alleviation and development, culminating in the...
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