Institution Building across Borders
- Financialising Poverty: The Transnational Political Economy of Microfinance’s Rise and Crises (Mader)
- When Multi-level Governance Hits the Ground: European Nature Conservation and Land-Use Change in Vrancea [Romania] and Galicia [Spain] (Mantescu)
- In the Shadow of the Dragon: Transnational Labor Activism between State and Private Politics. A Multilevel Analysis of Labor Activism Targeting China (Zajak)
Awarded with the Otto Hahn Medal of the Max-Planck-Society and the Körber Foundation’s German Thesis Award
Dissertation defended at the University of Cologne in June 2012
This dissertation departs from the literature on microfinance by asking ‘What does microfinance work at – and how?’; rather than ‘Does microfinance work?’. Instead of working to reduce poverty, it finds that microfinance works to financialise poverty.
Through an institutional history of microfinance the dissertation investigates the conditions which created its rise, finding its roots in colonial history and tracing its ascent in an age of faith in finance. By building on the literature on financialisation and the social meaning of money and credit, the dissertation arrives at its central argument: that microfinance financialises poverty. First, microfinance’s expansion builds on mobilising narratives which can only make sense under financialised capitalism, where social problems are framed as problems of finance. Second, microfinance gives financial market expansion a key place on political agendas, enabling a deeper integration of financial markets which generates a financialised governmentality. Third, via credit, microfinance creates distinct material relations which allow rentier capitalists to extract surpluses, which are fairly substantial, as a quantitative analysis shows.
The second and more empirical part studies specific cases of microfinance-driven financialisation and their limits encountered in practice. A range projects linking public goods with microfinance are discussed, with a focus on projects of ‘microfinance for water and sanitation’, which are embedded in the conflictive politics of water and sanitation. It is shown how the private financial ‘win-win’ situation assumed by such projects is unattainable, as two practical cases (in Vietnam and India) created remarkably similar problems. Finally, the dissertation investigates the limits to financialisation evidenced by the most severe microfinance crisis to date, which began in India in 2010 after borrowers’ repayment capacities were overstretched precisely by the microfinance sector’s commercial successes.
The findings call for an expanded understanding of financialisation, recognising its extension into poor societies as much as rich ones, and taking note of the diverse actors involved. The practical findings call for a serious re-evaluation of the concept of microfinance, pointing to more radical and democratic alternatives beyond financialised development.
Project duration: October 2008 to April 2012.
Philip Mader (2011): Making the Poor Pay for Public Goods via Microfinance Economic and Political Pitfalls in the Case of Water and Sanitation. MPIfG Discussion Paper 11/14.
Phil Mader (2011): Attempting the Production of Public Goods Through Microfinance: The Case of Water and Sanitation. Paper presented at the University of Pula 5th International Scientific Conference “Entrepreneurship and Macroeconomic Management: Reflections on the World in Turmoil”, Croatia, 24-26 March 2011.
When Multi-level Governance Hits the Ground: European Nature Conservation and Land-Use Change in Vrancea [Romania] and Galicia [Spain]
Dissertation defended at the Universität zu Köln in June 2012
The doctoral thesis combines historical inquiry with detailed ethnographic investigation and shows how struggles over resources are struggles over meanings. The battle to control meaning is being fought all the way up from the village level to the corridors of the European Commission in Brussels. Contrary to more optimistic arguments in studies on multi-level/transnational governance and international regime complexity studies, local actors at the village level have little capacity to actively participate in the EU’s open board policy game, not only because they lack resources and adequate knowledge, but also because the meaning they ascribe to the natural environment in their claims is deeply intertwined with how they use the land. Changing the patterns of land use though nature protection is equivalent to denying them control over the meaning of their environment, which ultimately translates into a new form of land dispossession.
Project duration: October 2008 to September 2012.
Liviu Mantescu und Monica Vasile (2009): Property reforms in rural Romania and community-based forests. Romanian Sociology, 7 (2): 95-113.
Liviu Mantescu (2009): Héritage et représentation sociale des ressources naturelles en propriété commune en Vrancea (Roumanie)’. In Jouve, A.-M. (ed.): Transitions foncières dans les Balkans : Roumanie, Albanie, Grèce. Montpellier: CIHEAM-IAMM, 77-92.
Liviu Mantescu (2008): Le cerf vaincu: Chasse à courre et néo-ruralité en Bretagne. Annuaire Roumain d’Anthropologie, 45: 111-122.
Liviu Mantescu (2007): Obstea: Negotiating access to natural resource, building an institution within villages. In Nagel, Jens, et al.(eds.): Managing Economic, Social and Biological Transformations. Weikersheim: Margraf Publishers, 42-55.
Liviu Mantescu (2006): Obştea Vranceana azi, definiţia unei structuri (Obştea from Vrancea nowadays: definition of a social structure). Romanian Sociology, 4 (3): 130-143.
In the Shadow of the Dragon: Transnational Labor Activism between State and Private Politics. A Multilevel Analysis of Labor Activism Targeting China
Dissertation defended at the University of Cologne in November 2012.
This dissertation explores how transnational labor activists mobilize along different pathways in their attempts to influence labor standards in Chinese supply chains. While we know plenty about individual cases of new forms of transnational activism across today’s changing landscape of global labor governance (e.g. campaigns against transnational companies), we know very little on how activists simultaneously mobilize the various elements within this architecture over time. This applies particularly when the ultimate target of activism is a state that is internally and externally strong, such as China. The dissertation contributes theoretically to the literature on transnational activism and transnational institutions.
By developing a novel analytical framework of “transnational pathways of influence,” the study captures how activism in one transnational setting interacts over time with developments in other transnational as well as local settings. Focusing on the period from 1989 to 2010, the study identifies and analyses four such pathways of influence and their outcomes: an international organization pathway, a bilateral pathway within the European Union, a market pathway via certification, and a capacity building pathway concerning civil labor organizations in China.
The empirical analysis reveals three major findings. First, strategies in one setting are influenced by developments and strategizing in other transnational governance settings. Moreover, these settings are not stable but change over time. Within this context of fluid global governance, a longitudinal and dynamic approach is essential. Second, the findings indicate that characteristics of the state in which the targets of activism, i.e. factories, are located is highly relevant in understanding pathways of influence and their outcomes. China is an example of how a politically and economically strong state can affect transnational activism, primarily by shaping the transnational setting of activism as well as by attempting to limit linkages between transnational activists and domestic actors. Third, in addition to a state’s internal and external strengths are other domestic developments associated with industrial relations that help to explain how targeted actors (the Chinese state and business) respond to transnational activism. In sum, the study finds that recurrent, multi-level struggles over the enforcement of labor rights contribute to a process of selective convergence between international norms, domestic law, and factory practices. Improvements in issues such as health and safety are being countered by persistent and fundamental discrepancies in wage payments and the freedom of association.
These finding have broader political and practical implications by pointing to the potential threat from authoritarian regimes to undermine directly and indirectly the opportunities that organized civil societies have to participate in the current global governance architecture.
Sabrina Zajak (2011): Transnational Private Regulation and the Participation of Civil Society in China: From Worker Support to Business Service Provision. WORKING PAPER No. 22, Center on Asia and Globalisation, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, University of Singapore
Sabrina Zajak (2011): Weniger Demokratie trotz mehr Partizipation: Politische
Beteiligung unter Internationalisierungsdruck. In: Vorgänge 194, 50(2),
Sabrina Zajak (2009): Civil society campaigns and the politicization of working conditions in global supply chains: A comparison of the production of athletic footwear and toys. Paper präsentiert am Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, Konferenz über “Adjusting to Economic and Social Challenges: Reconsidering the Roles of State and Market”.
Sabrina Zajak (2009): Polanyi, labor activism and transnational governance structures: The role of “the counter movement” in two different industry fields. In: Shaping Europe in a Globalized World? Protest Movements and the Rise of a Transnational Civil Society. Marie Curie Conference Reader. University of Zürich.
Sabrina Zajak (2009): Nationale und transnationale Auseinandersetzungen um Arbeitsbedingungen in globalen Zulieferketten.MPIfG Forschungsgruppe "Grenzüberschreitende Institutionenbildung". Bericht aus laufenden Forschungsprojekten. Köln: Max-Planck-Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung.
Sabrina Zajak (2007): Zivilgesellschaftliche Einflussnahme auf transnationale Unternehmen? Eine Analyse der Wirkung unternehmenskritischer Kampagnen am Beispiel der Anti-Wal-Mart Kampagne in den USA. Diplomarbeit im Studiengang Sozialwissenschaften an der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.