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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 »

This post is provided by guest blogger Domen Bajde of the University of Southern Denmark.

As evidenced by inventive movements and campaigns (for a future example see Half the Sky Movement: The Game), the field of charity is undergoing considerable dynamics. As a skeptically-optimistic observer, I am happy to see research that explores such developments against the backdrop of broader material and social change, appreciating their innovativeness and critically questioning the suppositions, mechanics and stakes at play.

I recently stumbled upon a book sharing my skeptical optimism. Surveying historical change in Amnesty International and Oxfam advertising, Chouliaraki argues that poverty is increasingly instrumentalized, setting the focus on the “self” (of the Western donor), turning charity into an ironic spectacle largely shaped by “compassion fatigue” (a.k.a. avoiding stuff that is unpleasant). Rather than amplifying the voice of those in need, many charities end up prioritizing the interests/pleasures of donors.

Read the rest of this entry »

Dirk von Gehlen, editor in charge of the German portal jetzt.de, points in his blog to the following impressive and viral Google commercial featuring Lady Gaga and dozens of Lady Gaga fans all around the world:

As von Gehlen emphasizes, the video is effectively a collage of copyright infringements by YouTube users, ending with the request to provide even more of those:

the web is what you make of it

In the official description of the video, Google gives more details on the background and the making of the video:

This film celebrates Lady Gaga’s special and unmediated relationship with her fans, the Little Monsters. The making of this film is a demonstration of the power of the web in its own right. […] Within hours of the release of her new single “Edge of Glory” on May 9th, fans began uploading videos on YouTube, making the song their own by dancing to it, singing it and playing it on all kinds of instruments.

The whole video and its imperative is thus completely at odds with another video released by Google about a month ago: the YouTube Copyright School, which was meant to educate users about copyright and warned them to abstain from infringements like those presented in the Lady Gaga commercial. Read the rest of this entry »

This post is provided by guest blogger Domen Bajde, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Faculty of Economics (FELU) at the University of Ljubljana/Slovenia. He is also running a personal blog at bajde.net.

In one of his depressingly amusing anecdotes Ronald Reagan suggests that in the US ‘War on poverty’ (declared by Lyndon B. Johnson two decades earlier) ‘poverty won.’ In the decades that followed, Reagan’s smug conclusion has resonated with many who have either lost faith in organized political/governmental action against poverty or have altogether refused to conceive of poverty as an issue of governance. Similar qualms have been raised in regard to nonprofits’ and charitable organizations’ ability to effectively besiege poverty. Not surprisingly, the ‘foot soldiers’ of the anti-poverty regiment (i.e., regular citizens/donors) are often overwhelmed by the endless charity appeals and a profound sense of hopelessness.

In our collective efforts to discover (create?) ‘fresh’ champions in the ongoing war on poverty, many heads have turned to business. Philanthropy-business hybrids, such as venture philanthropyphilanthrocapitalism or social entrepreneurship, have become central to contemporary pursuits of poverty alleviation. These hybrid alternatives are often depicted as an unproblematic marriage of economy (self-interest, resource management) and philanthropy (social values, charitable giving). Due to their supposedly apolitical and non-ideological nature they appeal to individuals of varied political convictions and domiciles (globally, so to speak). Read the rest of this entry »

Harward law professer Lawrence Lessig is one of the most recognized copyright experts in the world. When giving public presentations, he regularly includes short video clips to make his point. Obviously, these video quotations are covered by the fair-use-clause in US copyright. Residing in Germany, however, YoutTube does not allow me watching the video of one of Lessig’s talks embedded below.  I stumbled upon the link to the video as a Slovenian colleague, Domen Bajde, recommends it to his students in a course on global business environments. When clicking on the link, YouTube just tells me that

“Dieses Video enthält Content von UMG. Es ist in deinem Land nicht verfügbar.” (translation: “This video contains content from UMG. It is not available in your country.”)

Previously on this blog, I have described how such problems arise as a consequence of (re-)negotiations between platform providers such as Google (the owner of YouTube) and rights holders, which demand a share from the platform’s ad revenues and hold content created and shared by users hostage (see “Private Negotation of Public Goods: Collateral Damage(s)“). The funny thing is how this erects new and increasingly ridiculous barriers in the seemingly global online world that are still tied to national borders. As an Austrian living in Germany, for example, I can only watch every second video shared by my Austrian friends via Facebook. Obviously, I am not the only one annoyed by this phenomenon. Paul Mutant, a Hungarian artist currently living in Brighton, U.K., converted his frustration into the great painting featured below. Read the rest of this entry »

Content hosting services such as Google’s YouTube or Facebook are among the most important digital public spaces. Many entirely new forms of creativity have been inspired and flourish due to new and easy ways of sharing (more or less slightly) modified content on the net. What is more, popular examples of such user-generated remixes or mash-ups rarely stay isolated but lead to video responses – often based on another round of remixing.

Precondition for this ecology of user creativity is not only the technological platform but also an enabling legal framework: while, at least in the U.S., many instances of remix culture fall under the fair-use exemption of copyright, this cannot easily be recognized and thus bears risks of costly litigation. As a result, platform operators such as Google are tempted to pursue policies best described as “delete if in doubt” whether a particular work might infringe copyrights.

But why should copyright holders persecute such “infringements” by ordinary users – often fans and dear customers – who engage in creative work without commercial interests? The reason are commercial revenues generated by platform operators, mostly via advertising. Copyright holders of works (re-)used in user-generated content distributed on these platforms demand their share of those revenues and use their copyrights as a collateral in the respective negotiations. 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.
April 2017
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