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Abstract

For the past thirty years, policymakers have lauded microfinance for its promises to reduce poverty and empower women in developing nations. First conceived by the Bangladeshi economist Muhammed Yunus and the bank he founded, microfinance has been hailed as a visionary project that promises to advance the economic interests of the poor by engaging them directly. Conventional studies by political scientists explore the place of microfinance in the global development architecture of international financial institutions, governments, and NGOs. Economic studies of its effectiveness are contributing to a crisis of legitimacy since they reveal that thousands of clients in developing nations continue to default on their loans due to predatory lending practices. Drawing on discourse analysis methodology, this article seeks to explain how microfinance, an industry embedded in the financialization of development, is now concerned with high financial returns for investments, not the social goals promised by its original raison d'être. Treating microfinance as a discourse, I argue that there is a fundamental tension between the short-term social goals promised by microfinance and the long-term financial objectives of sustainability of investors.

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