Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Department of Sociology and Anthropology: Sociology

First Advisor

James Stanlaw

Second Advisor

Aaron Z. Pitluck


Microfinance is an attempt to alleviate poverty through offering collateral-free small loans to poor borrowers, especially women in developing countries or rural areas. Though it is indeed an actual economic activity, usually engaged in through some type of bank, there is much that is informal and context-bound in these transactions, making microfinance a kind of “social business.” While the impact of microfinance on women borrowers has been discussed many times, only a few studies have looked at the significance of the other members of the interaction: the microfinance workers, who are instrumental intermediaries between the women-borrowers and the microfinance institutions who attempt to market their products. The role of the microfinance worker-intermediaries is critical. Studying the role of the microfinance worker not only helps us understand how microfinance is actually practiced, but also reveals how the complexities of micro-financialization entails not purely economic and calculative activities, but also complex social interactions and meaning-making.

This research studies workers in the microfinance industry in rural China by examining their everyday interaction with the borrowers. I show that the success of any given microfinance interaction has much to do with the competence, knowledge, and sensitivity of the individual microfinance worker. And their skill set depends on a number of factors, including their own understanding about the job and what the actual aim of microfinance is. The different participants in these interactions can sometimes have different agendas, or different ways of communicating them. Sometimes due to specific contingencies in specific contexts, a particular interaction may or may not succeed. Thus, sometimes the development-mission of microfinance can ‘drift’ away or become forgotten. Much depends, then, on the “relational” talents of the microfinance worker. Indeed, the relational work from these intermediary workers directly shapes the micro-financialization process.

By examining the workers’ motivations, their “tenuous positions” (Kar 2013) as intermediaries between borrowers and lenders, and how they attempt to balance providing services to their potential borrowers while also maintaining their fiduciary responsibilities to their lending institutions, we can more fully understand the complexities of the microfinance process in daily life. As microfinance has often been touted as a pragmatic solution to possibly alleviating much poverty world-wide, this study has both practical as well as theoretical import.


Imported from Ma_ilstu_0092N_11797.pdf


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