Is microfinance the magic bullet that will end global poverty or is it yet another a form of predatory lending to the poor? In her new book Financializing Poverty: Labor and Risk in Indian Microfinance
(Stanford University Press, 2018), Sohini Kar
brings ethnography to bear on this urgent question. Drawing on fieldwork with a for-profit microfinance institution (MFI) and its intended beneficiaries in the Indian city of Kolkata, the book brings into view the perils of “financial inclusion” for the poor. Kar argues that new streams of credit are increasingly used to capitalize on poverty rather than to challenge it. Richly peopled, the book evinces a deep commitment to understanding economic life as it is lived and experienced by everyday people rather than through abstract models. We meet founders of MFIs remaking themselves with narratives of social business, loan officers trying to balance the performance of care with pressures of debt-recovery, poor women taking out consumption loans and striving for middle-class identities, and debt-ridden borrowers struggling to manage the costs of living and the pressures of repayment. The experiences of this cast of characters are framed within the larger histories of debt and power in Kolkata, in West Bengal, and in India more broadly. Financializing Poverty
combines theoretical sophistication with clear and engaging prose to shed light on the ways in which profit is made off of poverty. The book will be of interest to readers in the fields of anthropology, economics, and development studies, as well as readers interested in South Asia and global poverty.
Aparna Gopalan is a Ph.D. student in Social Anthropology at Harvard.