Development and its discontents: NGOs, women and the politics of social mobilization in Bangladesh
Karim, Lamia N.
Faubion, James D.
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation is an analysis of the policies, practices, and effects of a number of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in Bangladesh. My work focuses on micro-credit NGOs, the Grameen Bank model in particular, and on the strategy pursued by them to "empower poor women." I look at how the extension of credit to "poor women" intersects with existing gender and community relations to produce results that are often in conflict with the stated goals of "empowerment" and "development." While credit can be a source of capital, and often is such a source for established market agents in Western societies, the extension of credit in more traditional societies, such as Bangladesh, can often become an additional site of stress and exploitation. My research highlights how these new forms of violence in which poor men and women find themselves implicated, sometimes as victims and sometimes as aggressors, are linked with the social stresses and dislocations produced by modern development agencies, the NGOs in particular. My dissertation documents how NGOs have become channels through which globalization enters the most private space of rural society---the home---and how it begins to dissolve the private/public distinctions that regulate rural life. This modernizing agenda of NGOs often disrespects the norms that local people live by. By alienating the very people they seek to empower, NGOs surrender critical ground to Islamic militants who move into occupy moments of social disruptions. Finally, I argue that the development NGO sector in Bangladesh have inducted various groups into its self-perpetuation, thereby, making it difficult for alternatives to the NGO's way of doing things to emerge. Similarly, the Grameen Bank operates as a form of symbolic capital for Bangladeshi national elites and diasporans, and as a financially viable tool for Western aid agencies, thus making it difficult for critiques of the micro-credit model to emerge as a constructive dialogue. My dissertation places these instances in a theoretically developed anthropology of "women in development."
Cultural anthropology; Women's studies