Have we sold the poor the American Dream?
: the political economy of microfinance

  • Joseph William Nelson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis critically investigates how microfinance remains a development policy despite considerable evidence claiming it is neither pro-poor nor pro-women. The neoliberalisation of the development agenda to support structural adjustment required a solution to poverty that was market based. That solution was microfinance. Microfinance is high interest debt to the poor and, I argue, a tool not for poverty reduction but for the financialisation of poverty. Using the case of Egypt and Gramsci’s framework of hegemony, this thesis explores the way the microfinance industry has been able to present a convincing case for the ability of microfinance to address the issues of poverty, supported by narratives of individual empowerment. To facilitate the mainstream acceptance of debt for the poor, the microfinance industry promoted narratives which constructed the lives of those that borrow around ideas that later become popularly supported. The poor are cast as aspiring entrepreneurs by the industry, which works to shape the opinions of policy makers to embed those ideas into development policy. Through data provided by participants at all levels of the microfinance industry, this thesis sought to determine the role narratives play in maintaining the hegemony of microfinance. Evidence demonstrates that the industry relies on these narratives at a policy level to maintain the hegemony of microfinance while covering up the financialisation of poverty. On the ground, the narratives are shown as irrelevant and that loans to the poor are part of a coping strategy of last resort for those that are forced to live in a neoliberal market economy.
Date of Award28 Sept 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorAndrew K J Wyatt (Supervisor) & Adrian G Flint (Supervisor)

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