Microcredit strategies combine the logic of business, progressive approaches to learning from experience and the key aim to reduce poverty, especially amongst women. The focus in such interventions on the independent, entrepreneurial citizen suggests not only new ways to generate economic growth and sustainable development, but an important recalibration of the repressive social relations thought to be at the root of women’s persistent ‘under-development’. This article explores women’s experiences of their roles as entrepreneurs, and reflects on how the learning processes and outcomes associated with microcredit schemes ‘shape the self’, often in quite unpredictable ways. The article is based on an ethnographic study of disadvantaged women in Dar es Salaam, and follows them as they participate in NGO-based training schemes, ‘practise’ entrepreneurship in a range of income-generating settings, and negotiate the consequences of the new subjectivities on which the independent, entrepreneurial citizen is based. Like many microcredit programmes, the majority of women in the study were full time housewives before joining the scheme. Others had left their jobs following retrenchment, prejudice or gender discrimination. In all cases, they started their own businesses with little or no business experience or education. Whilst some appear to have embraced the new opportunities, others have struggled. In all cases, microcredit and the associated learning processes produced contradictory and ambivalent feelings of success and failure, hope and disappointment, progress and exclusion. The article explores these ambivalences in order to critique development initiatives that are based on universal notions of autonomy and self-determination in contexts shaped by dependence and structural inequality.
Bibliographical noteAn earlier version of this paper was presented at the 10th UKFIET International
Conference on Education and Development, 15–17 September 2009, New College,
- gender equality
- Development discourse