Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Center for Contemporary South Asia

Smitha Radhakrishnan — Making Financial Citizens? Gendered Livelihoods and Commercial Microfinance in Urban India

Friday, February 15, 2019

2:00pm – 4:00pm

McKinney Conference Room, Watson Insitute

Smitha Radhakrishnan is the Luella LaMer Associate Professor of Women's Studies and Associate Professor of Sociology at Wellesly College. As a feminist ethnographer of gender and globalization, Smitha strives for her scholarship to illuminate how the local and the global reflect and challenge one another. In her teaching, she aims for her students to ascertain that complex, dazzling set of dynamic interconnections. In the two major research projects that have defined her scholarship so far, Smitha has examined the institutional contexts of work, finance, and international development, in the geographical contexts of urban India, the U.S., and South Africa, always with a focus on individual subjectivities and experiences. As a result of these engagements, both her research and teaching engage the interconnected legacies of colonialism and slavery. Smitha highlights how these histories are often re-inscribed through contemporary forms of inequality. Her methodological preference for fine-grained ethnography and interviews, and her theoretical bent towards the world-systemic dynamics of economy and culture link, at every turn, the individual/personal with the public, the social, and the political.

Currently, Smitha is working on a book manuscript that examines for-profit microfinance in India.  Through interviews and ethnographic work in the India and the United States, this project investigates how global finance continues to expand its reach to new populations through small, uncollateralized loans that target women. She pays close attention to the everyday relationships between loan officers and working women clients, and how institutional, national, and global forces shape the inner workings of these complex relationships that at once build interpersonal trust, creditworthiness, and new financial institutions. The give-and-take between the employees of microfinance institutions and the clients they serve, Smitha argues, helps us understand how huge influxes of national and global financial flows shape new financial subjects.  A book manuscript based on this work, When Women Pay Up: Power, Profit, and Personhood in Global Microfinance is currently in production. Recent publications from this research can be found herehere, and here.

South Asia Seminar