15: Moral and Other Economies: Nijera Kori and Its Alternatives to Microcredit
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265 Chapter Fifteen Moral and Other Economies Nijera Kori and Its Alternatives to Microcredit Kasia Paprocki Introduction Nijera Kori, Bangladesh’s largest movement of landless people, is committed to mobilizing the rural poor to demand their rights; in so doing, they actively reject microcredit and the service-­ delivery approach that it exemplifies. This rejection is noteworthy in a country that has become known as the “birthplace of microcredit” and that boasts more microcredit borrowers per square mile than any other country in the world (Yunus 2011). This chapter examines the politics of Nijera Kori’s rejection of microcredit, grounded in the particular moral economyof Bangladesh’s traditional peasant society: “their notion of economic justice and their working definition of exploitation” (Scott 1976, 3). This politics offers not only a critique of microcredit and the contemporary global development paradigm, but also a radical alternative to the normative vision of rural life they promote. While microcredit programs, equipped with the rhetoric of empowerment of rural communities, claim to address the concerns linked to this moral economy, they do so in such a way as to hollow out any analysis of the resource disparity and injustice that are at its very core. Alternatively, the work of Nijera Kori not only honors Bangladesh’s traditional peasant moral economy, but in fact strengthens the frameworks through which peasants can struggle to achieve social justice. At the center of Nijera Kori’s divergence from microcredit programs is a fundamentally different interpretation of the historical foundations of poverty and inequality in rural Bangladesh. This interpretation recognizes that poverty is produced within a particular political-­economic context and that a focus on this agrarian political economy suggests a manifestly different agenda for addressing poverty and development. In her trenchant critique of microcredit programs 266 Kasia Paprocki in Cairo, Julia Elyachar (2005, 193) explains that “the notion of empowerment became an important underpinning to neoliberal programs that ‘respond to the sufferer as if they were the author of their own misfortune.’” Nijera Kori’s critique of microcredit, along with its advocacy and mobilization work, starts from the premise that the cause of poverty is not a lack of resources, but instead the unequal distribution of resources.The critique also insists that the poor and marginalized are not responsible for their own privation, which, in fact, stems from a historical pattern of injustice and inequity that has only been exacerbated by the expansion of capitalism in rural Bangladesh, including the proliferation of microcredit programs. Despite the historical circumstances in which they find themselves, the success of Nijera Kori attests to the fact that the poor have the capacity to mobilize, advocate for their rights, and in so doing, improve their social and material conditions. In recognizing this collective agency of the poor, Nijera Kori rejects the dominant service-­ delivery approach of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in favor of conscientization and mobilization, in order to support the poor in realizing their own collective capabilities (Kabeer 2003). Conscientization refers to a social mobilization approach that was used widely in Bangladesh in the 1970s and 1980s, similar to that of Paulo Freire, which focuses on developing “the potential of poor people to challenge structural inequalities through education, organization, and mobilization” (Lewis 1997, 35). I will begin this chapter with an overview of Nijera Kori and its history, contextualized in relation to the shift in development agendas through which microcredit programs have flourished in Bangladesh. This overview will be followed by a discussion of the moral economy of the Bangladeshi peasantry and the agrarian political economy within which both Nijera Kori and microcredit programs operate. I will then offer three important tenets of this moral economy , as well as particular strategies for organizing and advocacy employed by Nijera Kori landless groups, which offer a substantive alternative to the strategies promoted by microcredit programs. Nijera Kori and Its History Despite its small organizational capacity, Nijera Kori works in 25 percent of Bangladesh’s sixty-­ four districts. Its active membership of almost 250,000 individuals does not do justice to the even more significant social and economic Moral and Other Economies 267 impact of its presence on the wider population of each of the 1,323 villages in which it operates (Nijera Kori 2013). This membership is composed of women and men who depend on their own physical labor as their main source of livelihood —primarily agricultural wage laborers, sharecroppers, and marginal farmers. As Naila Kabeer (2003) has written in her insightful history of the movement , Nijera...



Subject Headings

  • Rural development -- Developing countries.
  • Microfinance -- Developing countries.
  • Small business -- Developing countries -- Finance.
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