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10 - New global visions of microfinance: The construction of markets from indicators

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 October 2015

Barbara Grimpe
University of Constance, Germany
Richard Rottenburg
Martin Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, Germany
Sally E. Merry
New York University
Sung-Joon Park
Martin Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, Germany
Johanna Mugler
Universität Bern, Switzerland
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Many of the so-called developing and developed countries world-wide have a long history with microfinance, or the provision of small-size financial services to relatively poor people (Seibel 2005: 1). This chapter focuses on a particular set of changes in microfinance that have taken place across both developing and developed countries in the last few years: the formation of global market structures. More specifically, these structures are analysed here to illuminate the ways in which international standard-setting bodies attempt to construct global markets from indicators. If the visions of these groups of actors were to be achieved, the transformation of the microfinance sectors world-wide would be massive: countless small-size financial services to the poor all over the globe would be largely driven by a market that represents these local realities in a new information world that is highly self-contained. The complex and dynamic world of microfinance would be compressed into a few inches of computer screen. Based on these observable efforts of the standard-setters, this chapter makes the following case: a new global electronic market for microfinance is in the making and is the product of the long-term cultural and historical formation of ‘world society’. The present chapter discusses both the benefits and downsides of this trend.

‘World society’ is an umbrella term for various theoretical approaches (e.g. Heintz 1982; Meyer, Boli, Thomas and Ramirez 1997; Luhmann 1997; Heintz 2010). For instance, John W. Meyer and others contend that the term denotes a ‘culture’ that is ‘substantially organized on a world-wide basis’ and has ‘causal significance in its own right’, e.g. it cannot be reduced to local forces such as particular national or regional cultures (Meyer, Boli, Thomas and Ramirez 1997: 146–8). In addition to this important basic idea, Bettina Heintz’ approach (2010) is particularly apt to interpret the processes of change I wish to discuss here. She argues that globalization and the evolution of global markets largely depend on communication processes with the help of numbers, rather than other media such as spoken language, written text or images. More precisely, global markets would be ‘unthinkable’ without large-scale quantitative comparisons (Heintz 2010: 162–3, 174–6). To paraphrase Heintz’ reasoning further, this transformative power of quantitative comparisons is like a double-edged sword.

The World of Indicators
The Making of Governmental Knowledge through Quantification
, pp. 254 - 282
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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