Smitha Radhakrishnan, "Making Women Pay: Microfinance in Urban India" (Duke UP, 2022)


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In Making Women Pay: Microfinance in Urban India (Duke UP, 2022), Smitha Radhakrishnan explores India's microfinance industry, which in the past two decades has come to saturate the everyday lives of women in the name of state-led efforts to promote financial inclusion and women's empowerment. Despite this favorable language, Radhakrishnan argues, microfinance in India does not provide a market-oriented development intervention, even though it may appear to help women borrowers. Rather, this commercial industry seeks to extract the maximum value from its customers through exploitative relationships that benefit especially class-privileged men. Through ethnography, interviews, and historical analysis, Radhakrishnan demonstrates how the unpaid and underpaid labor of marginalized women borrowers ensures both profitability and symbolic legitimacy for microfinance institutions, their employees, and their leaders. In doing so, she centralizes gender in the study of microfinance, reveals why most microfinance programs target women, and explores the exploitative implications of this targeting.

Smitha Radhakrishnan is Professor of Sociology and Luella LaMer Professor of Women’s Studies at Wellesley College. Her research examines the cultural, financial, and political dimensions of gender and globalization, with particular focus on India, the United States, and South Africa. Her most recent book, Making Women Pay: Microfinance in Urban India, examines exploitative anti-poverty practices that target women. Radhakrishnan’s previous book, Appropriately Indian: Gender and Culture in a Transnational Class (Duke University Press 2011) is a transnational ethnography of Indian IT professionals. She has previously researched the cultural politics of post-apartheid South Africa. Her articles have appeared in World Development, Gender and Society, Theory and Society, and Signs, among other prominent journals. She received her PhD in Sociology from University of California, Berkeley.

Saronik Bosu (@SaronikB on Twitter) is a doctoral candidate in English at New York University. He is writing his dissertation on South Asian economic writing. He co-hosts the podcast High Theory and is a co-founder of the Postcolonial Anthropocene Research Network.

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