Empowerment Money: The World Bank, Non-Governmental Organizations, and the Value of Culture in Egypt
With the antiglobalization protests in Washington, D.C., in April 2000, the term globalization took a new turn on its slippery discursive slope. First surfacing on the pages of the financial and business press in the 1970s, globalization developed into the catchword of a highly successful neoliberal agenda that asserted the inevitable refiguring of state regulatory regimes to increase the profitability of global financial capital.1 From these origins in the world of business and finance, the term spread throughout academia, including the fields of anthropology and cultural studies.2 But with the rise of the antiglobalization movement and, in particular, the highly successful protests in Seattle and Washington, D.C., the term globalization achieved a different kind of status. It became not only the keyword of the broadest protest movement at the turn of the millennium but, additionally, a signifier of all that was good and all that is bad in the postcommunist era.
In the discussion that emerged in the press immediately following the Washington protests, globalization became a metaphor for development as well.3 In fact, development itself often appeared to be the focus of these discussions rather than any set of conditions usually designated as globalization. By the end of April 2000, development as critiqued by anthropologists and others since the 1980s had evidently been given a discursive burial.4 No one wanted to defend development anymore—not even the World Bank.
Indeed, the president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, defended his policies against the antiglobalization protestors by insisting that he, too, was against development. “We,” he said, “are way ahead of the protestors.”5 To prove his point, he cited charts to illustrate the decline of development lending for large projects at the bank and the parallel rise of so-called microloans, that is, very small loans to individuals selling goods in the marketplace, often in the Third World.6 What are we to think when the president of the World Bank attempts to prove himself more radical about development than the radicals? Or when he espouses the critique of development as the foundational tenet of a new development policy? And how, in all this, do microloans function as the inverse of development?
Developing Antidevelopment; Economizing the People
According to Andrea Durbin, director of Friends of the Earth USA, “the rhetoric of the [World Bank] has changed in the last five years. . . . But the practice hasn’t.”7 Durbin is both right and wrong. Voices against the old orthodoxy can still be fired or pressured to quit.8 Enforcement of structural adjustment policies (SAPs) does not seem, on the surface of things, to have changed much. But inside the doors of the World Bank, the people that many would like to empower have been the subject of intense scrutiny—and development support—for some years now. Since the 1980s, the World Bank has been doing a lot to seek out and empower the people whom critics see as its victims.
Readers might be surprised to learn the extent to which development institutions, particularly in their search to empower, have embraced antidevelopment as their praxis. This new tendency can be observed in training programs linked to microlending schemes funded by the World Bank and other development agencies. For example, the training programs I attended in Cairo in 1995, organized by USAID for “community NGO leaders,” taught only respect for the hidden entrepreneurial qualities of the Third World poor—especially women. An exercise on financial management described the dilemmas of a woman in Peru (the organizers didn’t have time, they apologetically explained, to make up new worksheets with Arabic names put in) whose husband had been downsized from a public sector job. Thus he was now free, like the proletariat of old, to join his wife in her more entrepreneurial project of selling food on the street. The only one to be developed here was the husband, who clung to the notion that he was better off in a salaried job with the state. To sum up a lesson we learned that day, practices once dismissed as “backward” and situations once seen as transitional have become the vanguard of entrepreneurial savvy in the global age.
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My thanks to Achille Mbembe, Janet Roitman, Mara Thomas, and anonymous readers from Public Culture for comments on an earlier version of this article. Toma?z Mastnak read and critiqued this article at numerous stages. I am indebted to Essam Fawzi, with whom I conducted important parts of the fieldwork I draw on here and discussed many of the ideas I develop in this paper. My thanks as well to the editors of Public Culture for their helpful suggestions and improvements. I wrote this article while resident at the Scientific Research Center, Slovene Academy of Sciences and Arts, Ljubljana, Slovenia. I am grateful to its director, Oto Luthar, for his support. I alone am responsible for any remaining errors in the text.
- According to David Harvey, the term globalization took off in the 1970s thanks to an American Express advertising campaign. See Harvey, Spaces of Hope ( Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 13.
- The debates about globalization are vast and well known. For the approach in anthropology that was long the most influential, see Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization ( Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996). A contrasting approach within anthropology was put forward in Aihwa Ong, Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality ( Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1999). Appadurai has recently argued for the importance of NGOs as a crucible for globalization from below and international civil society. See Arjun Appadurai, “Grassroots Globalization and the Research Imagination,” Public Culture 12 (2000): 1–19. I discuss some of the problems with such an approach in “Finance internationale, micro-crédit et religion de la société civile en Égypte,” Critique internationale 13 (2001): 139–52.
- The debate on development is vast. The form of development critiqued by antiglobalization protestors and many others is clearly not Amartya Sen’s definition of development as freedom from want, insecurity, social exclusion, and political and social repression ( Development As Freedom [New York: Knopf, 1998]). Rather, it refers to development as the key term in a new conceptual framework for intervention in the post–World War II era, through which the “underdeveloped world” could be actively changed for the better. As readers will know, the debate about “development” is linked to the debate about becoming “modern.” For two important definitions of development and the development era, see Frederick Cooper and Randall Packard, eds., International Development and the Social Sciences: Essays on the History and Politics of Knowledge (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), and Wolfgang Sachs, ed., The Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge As Power (London: Zed Books, 1992).
- Within anthropology see, for example, Arturo Escobar, Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995); James Ferguson, The Anti-Politics Machine: “Development,” Depoliticization, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Shyama Charan Dube, Modernization and Development: The Search for Alternative Paradigms (Tokyo: United Nations University; London: Zed Books, 1988); and James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998). For a critical analysis of development in Egypt, see Timothy Mitchell, “The Object of Development: America’s Egypt,” in Power of Development, ed. Jonathan Crush (New York: Routledge, 1995). On the problematic nature of the antidevelopment approach, see Julia Elyachar, “Developing Informality: The State, International Organizations, and NGOs in a Model Workshop Town of Cairo” (paper presented at the AAA Annual Meeting, San Francisco, 11 November 1996) and “Egyptian Workshop, Global Enterprise: Visions of Economy and Urban Life in Cairo 1900–1996” (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1999); James Ferguson, Expectations of Modernity: Myths and Meanings of Urban Life on the Zambian Copperbelt (Berkeley: University of California Press: 1999), 247–49; and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), 418–19, for notes toward a critique of microloans and antidevelopment.
- John Burgess, “As the World Bank Meets: Serving the Poor, and Serving Time: Staff Asks, ‘Why Us?’” International Herald Tribune, 14 April 2000, 19.
- Newspapers reported Wolfensohn arriving at weekend staff meetings, just before the protests hit Washington, D.C., “brandishing charts showing that big power projects, once 25 percent of the World Bank’s lending, now account for just 2 percent, and that spending on nutrition, education, and ‘microloans’ to small businesses, many run by women in the Third World, has skyrocketed.” David Singer, “World Bank Defends Itself to Critics,” International Herald Tribune, 17 April 2000, 18.
- John Burgess, “Criticism of Agencies Bewilders IMF and World Bank Staffers,” International Herald Tribune, 14 April 2000, 19.
- Joseph Stiglitz’s resignation was the most significant example, soon to be followed by the resignation of Ravi Kanbur over the handling of the World Bank’s World Development Report 2000/2001: Attacking Poverty (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). Stiglitz wrote about conflicts between the World Bank and the IMF in “The Insider: What I Learned at the World Economic Crisis,” New Republic (on-line version at www.thenewrepublic.com), 6 April 2000.