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Logo of “Anonymous”

It all began with a blog post back in 2012 entitled “Anonymous’ Boundaries: Expelling by Exposing” that I had prepared prior to a workshop on “organization as communication“. It describes how the so-called “hacker collective” Anonymous had expelled one of its self-identified members by exposing its full name, address and other contact information. The closing paragraph of this post reads as follows:

Of course, Anonymous is an extreme case. But exactly because of its distinctiveness I think there is a lot to learn about organizing practices in general.

After the workshop I teamed up with Dennis Schoeneborn and together we tried to harvest the explanatory potential of the case. Our joint efforts resulted in the paper “Fluidity, Identity and Organizationality: The Communicative Constitution of Anonymous”, which is now available as a pre-print version at Journal of Management Studies: Read the rest of this entry »

Excerpt from “The Political Economy of Microfinance: Financializing Poverty”, Introduction, A Framework for Engaging Microfinance.

Concepts and Euphemisms

There is often confusion about some terms that are commonly used in discussions about microfinance. Before the substantial chapters begin, an explanation of terminological choices which affect the analysis [in this book] is essential.

Microfinance vs. microcredit – There is no consensus definition of microfinance. We may stick to a condensed version of CGAP’s definition [1], following which microfinance is “financial services for poor and low-income people, offered by different types of service providers, most of which designate themselves as microfinance institutions”.

Yet some readers might be irritated by the usage of the term “microfinance” in a book which pays relatively little attention to services such as microsavings or microinsurance. Though I differentiate clearly between microfinance and microcredit in a historical frame – where “microcredit” was the dominant term during an earlier period, while thereafter “microfinance” fell into favour – the term “microfinance” is used otherwise throughout this book to refer to the entire system, even where my analysis focuses on the credit dimension.

Why? First, even though “microfinance” is a relatively recent term – Seibel (2005) claims to have coined it in 1990 – hardly anyone now speaks of “microcredit”, let alone “microenterprise finance”, which was used mainly in the 1990s. The fact that “microfinance” is the dominant term may already be reason enough to use it. But, second, (a) microinsurance and (b) microsavings are more hype than reality. They are practically nowhere standalone businesses, while microcredit often is. Credit was, and remains, the essential element of microfinance, as the most profitable and prominent element.

Read the rest of this entry »

About a week ago I blogged about misleading information on Creative Commons licenses provided by one of the leading scientific publishing houses in the course of a textbook project I am involved in. In the closing paragraph, I wrote that “we plan to insist on including the respective figures in the volume”. After doing so, we have now received another table with “permission queries” from the publisher with even more disappointing misinformation. The query with regard to the photo of the Rana Plaza Collapse in full:

Although creative commons states that you can reproduce work commercially, it states that you can only do so by retaining the creative commons rights (aka no copyright) on the reproduction which would prohibit us from placing a copyright on the book. We also have no proof of who took the photograph which makes it too risky to include. We need to remove this photograph

Again, this is misleading on many different levels. First of all, “creative commons rights (aka no copyright)” is not just misleading but simply wrong. Creative Commons does not mean “no copyright”, it means “some rights reserved”. Actually, Creative Commons is entirely based and dependent on copyright; only someone who has the copyright of a work is able to (re-)license it under a Creative Commons license.

Read the rest of this entry »

google-good-or-badEllen P. Goodman (Rutgers University School of Law) and Julia Powles (University of Cambridge, Faculty of Law) have assembled 80 scholars (including myself) in support of an open letter to Google, which demands ”

Aggregate data about how Google is responding to the more than 250,000 requests to delist links, thought to contravene data protection laws, from name search results.

The letter mentions two main reasons why more transparency is needed:

(1) the public should be able to find out how digital platforms exercise their tremendous power over readily accessible information; and (2) implementation of the ruling will affect the future of the RTBF in Europe and elsewhere, and will more generally inform global efforts to accommodate privacy rights with other interests in data flows.

Read the letter in full, which ends with a long list of unanswered questions, over at the Guardian or at Medium.

(leonhard)

When publishing a scientific work or a textbook in a reputable publishing house, the final steps before publication usually involve signing over exclusive copyrights in a standardized manner. A standard clause in such copyright forms is that the author has to warrant that she either is the sole owner of the copyright in the contribution or has obtained the permission of the owners of the copyright (see Figure below, an excerpt of such a standard copyright form).

excerpt-copyright-form

While publishers thereby shift all responsibility with regard to rights clearing issues over to their authors, they regularly devote particular scrutiny to figures and tables. For any such figures and tables authors have to provide explicit permission statements. Even though including a properly referenced figure or table from another work in a scientific work or textbook could be – and probably often is – fair use (US copyright) or might be justified by exceptions for quotation, research and education (EU copyright), publishers refuse to take any risk that could be related to such a legal standpoint. Such a restrictive interpretation and enactment of copyright by publishers not only places unnecessary burdens on authors but also further worsens practicability of current copyright in academic contexts.

However, as I have learned in the course of contributing to a textbook with case studies on innovation and project networks, publishers might even decide to reject figures where permission is explicitly granted in form of a standardized Creative Commons license. In this particular case, in a spreadsheet entitled “permission queries”, the publisher listed all exhibits that were considered in any way problematic.

Read the rest of this entry »

Excerpt from “The Political Economy of Microfinance: Financializing Poverty”, Chapter 3, The Financialization of Poverty.

Reinforcement for the microfinance narratives of empowerment through finance, and of poverty being a problem of finance [see the last posted excerpt], comes from a vision of poor people as being inherently (or even exceptionally) financially minded subjects. Portfolios of the Poor, written by a team of practitioners and academics who tracked borrowers’ financial lives via financial diaries, has emerged as the key text of the ascendant “financial inclusion” paradigm. Engagingly written but not addressed to very broad audiences, it chiefly provides legitimation among development practitioners, bankers and microfinance experts for their visions of helping poor people to master their lives via financial services. The poor are depicted as Third-World “portfolio managers” (Collins et al. 2009: 238), as savvy and skilful as their Wall Street counterparts, and equally in need of finance. Portfolios effectively portrays the denizens of megacity slums and remote villages, to follow John Steinbeck, as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires” who have merely lost their bank accounts.¹

Underlying the claims made by Portfolios’ authors is the assumption that low-income individuals in the global South are guided by the cognitive framework of the purest specimen of Homo oeconomicus – the free investor. The authors interpreted nearly every financial decision inscribed in their subjects’ financial diaries as rational and optimal, and thereby ultimately deduced that MFIs should feed poor people’s ubiquitous credit needs for everything, not just microentrepreneurship.

Using a loan at 36 per cent interest to buy gold jewellery, as one diarist did, for instance was a sensible choice because “The fact that the loan could be repaid in a series of small weekly payments made it manageable … Price was only one aspect of the loan, less important than the repayment schedule that matched instalments to the household’s cash flow” (Collins et al. 2009: 23). That this diarist had to pay a 36 per cent surcharge for her “investment”, relative to what others would have had to pay, was a non-issue. Read the rest of this entry »

Excerpt from “The Political Economy of Microfinance: Financializing Poverty”, Chapter 3, The Financialization of Poverty.

The expansion of microfinance as part of the global process of financialization has hinged on mobilizing narratives which act as affirmative and prohibitive stories about what finance can and should do, about what is right and wrong, and about where and how finance should operate. As Akerlof and Shiller (2009: 51, 55-56) explain, “the human mind is built to think in terms of narratives”, particularly when it comes to “the expectations for personal success in business, the success of entrepreneurial ventures, and for payoffs to human capital” which underlie financial decisions.

Such narratives which give meaning to finance historically have featured centrally in processes of financial change. As Calder (1999) shows, the acceptance of debt into the household as part of a “normal” and “decent” lifestyle required an active redefinition of what it meant to use credit – the emergence of a new, positive narrative. Similarly, Harrington (2008) shows how during the dot.com bubble, people came together in groups to create, affirm and celebrate new and desirable identities as “investors”, enacting new narratives of social rise and participation through finance. Following de Goede (2005), more fundamentally, Western finance has always followed strongly gendered narratives which gave meaning to financial practices by aligning them with desirable or less desirable identities.

While stories and mobilizing narratives always matter in finance, in microfinance they are even more salient. Microfinance is anchored in the contemporary public imaginary through certain narratives of empowerment through finance (cf. Elyachar 2012) and of poverty as a problem of finance. Credit (or its inverse – debt) is represented and understood as a force for liberating women from traditional gender identities, allowing innate entrepreneurs to prosper, or helping poor people to manage their difficult economic lives better – notions which grant finance the power to develop people. The ubiquitous client success stories in donor organizations and MFIs’ publications, as well as countless media exposés, are key building blocks of the narratives. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s lingered quite a while in the pipeline. My book The Political Economy of Microfinance: Financializing Poverty is finally due to hit shelves in June – so says the publisher. This book makes the enigmatic microfinance sector more understanable by tracing its evolution and showing what it is today: a leading edge of financialisation where the world of global poverty meets the world of global finance.

The Political Economy of Microfinance Financialising Poverty

The book is the product of several years of research at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne. In 2008, I set out to investigate the connection of microfinance with water and sanitation, which brought me to southern India. Then the Andhra Pradesh microfinance crisis happened, and this eye-opener led me to re-examine microfinance more broadly and fundamentally, critically evaluate it as a highly remunerative but crisis-prone financial system (no longer a development intervention), and challenge its most basic premise: that poverty is a problem of finance.

I’m already excited about whatever reactions (critical, or otherwise) may follow when my ideas, analysis and critique finally reach a broader audience. To give some indications of what the book says and does, I’m posting excerpts from The Political Economy of Microfinance here over the next few months.

Here’s the first. Read the rest of this entry »

One of the things that make blogs particularly interesting are series. The “series” series recommends series at related blogs. 

Logo of the AoM Interest Group Strategizing, Activities & Practices

Logo of the AoM Interest Group Strategizing, Activities & Practices

For some time now, the digital revolution has reached and changed everyday research practices. There is hardly any part of the research process for which no digital tool is available, starting from creating a mind map of your first idea (e.g. “Freemind”) over collecting (e.g. “Sitesucker”) and coding your data (e.g. “WebQDA”) to collaboratively annotating and writing (e.g. “eLaborate”). And while many of these digital tools require substantial financial investments, a growing number of tools is available open access and free of charge.

Read the rest of this entry »

Yesterday the German comedian Jan Böhmerman claimed responsibility for a YouTube video where Yanis Varoufakis, the current Finance Minister of Greece, had allegedly stuck the finger to Germany. The video had been featured in Germany’s most popular Sunday evening talk show “Günther Jauch“. Confronted with this video as a guest of the show, Yanis Varoufakis denied the accuracy of the footage and instead claimed that the video had been “doctored”. However, most of the German media were convinced by the video, the German tabloid “Bild” even explicitly called Varoufakis a “Lügner” (“liar”):

In the video below (English subtitles start at 3:00 min), Böhmermann now describes in a very detailed manner how he and his team (allegedly?) had faked the segment of the video where Varoufakis shows his middle finger and claims that he had conspired with the organizers of the Croation conference where the video had been made to spread the fake version of the video.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
May 2015
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