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Do it yourself development: ambiguity and relational work in a Bangladesh social enterprise

Huang, Julia (2016) Do it yourself development: ambiguity and relational work in a Bangladesh social enterprise. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Young women walk the forefront of transformation as Bangladesh liberalizes its economy, decentralizes its state functions, and submits its poverty-alleviation plans to markets. Targeted by “financial-inclusion” and entrepreneurship-training programs as both the objects and instruments of economic growth, women such as Bangladesh’s iconic “iAgents” navigate the shift from kinship and patronage-based moral economies of development to a detached marketbased one. Cycling through impoverished villages to provide information services via Internetenabled laptop computers and digital medical equipment, iAgents attempt to generate an income sufficient to support their families. This thesis explores the socio-structural features and relational effects of market-driven approaches to poverty alleviation. Situating social enterprise within Bangladesh’s history of development models, it begins with the role of development resources in constituting the country’s new middle classes and patron-client relations. For clients, embarking on ventures such as iAgent represents personal, kinship, and ethical projects of improvement, despite social stigma for engaging in undignified work. As they undergo entrepreneurial training, young women encounter disciplinary devices not as bureaucratic and rationalizing measures but as extensions of the class, gender, and ideological projects of their middle-class social-enterprise superiors. iAgents occupy an ambiguous position between competing community and enterprise models of expectation. These new economic arrangements assert unsteady social positions, relationships, and agentive potential for people in rural Bangladesh. Based on fifteen months of ethnographic fieldwork (April 2013-July 2014), this thesis contributes to the anthropology of economic action. It argues that, contrary to the linear and communicative models of economic activity employed in development projects and academic theories about market devices, structural and relational ambiguity is a primary product of social entrepreneurship and is also necessary for such enterprises to function. Ambiguity serves as a resource used by project actors, in unequal ways, in the relational work of negotiating recognition and authority in precarious circumstances.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2016 Julia Huang
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Bear, Laura and Gardner, Katy

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