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Sumru Atuk: Commentary on Henrique Espada Lima “Vulnerability and Modernity Reinventing Coercion through Free Labor in the time of Abolition in Brazil”

What is freedom? Is it the opposite of slavery? Does its meaning remain unchanged across historical and geographic contexts? Does it apply to everyone equally? Professor Henrique Espada Lima’s presentation titled “Vulnerability and Modernity: Reinventing Coercion through Free Labor in the time of Abolition in Brazil” provided thought-provoking answers to these questions. Prof. Lima’s historical approach to the issue of freedom revealed that the content of freedom may vary depending on the historical and politico-economic contexts, as well as the groups of people whose freedom is at stake. In other words, freedom is not a self-explanatory concept similar to other generic concepts of liberal democracy, such as human rights and equality. Its content may be replete with exclusions, limitations and even a kind of bondage in the form of free labor.

The point of departure of Prof. Lima’s long-term research was an inquiry of poverty and precarious labor in slavery and post-emancipation. The broader subject Lima pursued was a specific narrative of freedom presented as an ever-expanding one. Lima’s study on 19th century Santa Catarina, Brazil provides a critical intervention to this progressive understanding of history using sources such as notary records, manumissions, judicial records, legal codes, collections of legislation, parliamentary debates, and legal journals. He contests this narrative by documenting that the transition from slavery to freedom did not necessarily mean an expansion of liberty for the newly freed individuals. It was instead a transition to free labor disguised as contractual freedom.

The productive tension between the large questions and local answers is one of the major sources of the critical capacity of Lima’s research. We cannot decipher the actual relationship between slavery and freedom by treating them as ahistorical and universal concepts. For instance, Lima’s research reveals that slavery had a very different meaning in 19th Century Brazil than its North American form. Far from being limited to plantations, it was deeply engrained and normalized in the society. Small property holders, poor individuals and even former slaves could have slaves. It had a significant place in social body and economic activities.

As Lima’s research reveals, the meaning of freedom was also very different from its current connotations. The historical documents Lima uses demonstrate that a slave could be freed but still be bound to their former master for extended periods of time (until they pay the price of their freedom through unpaid labor, until the master dies or even after the master’s death). According to Lima, due to the dominant mindset of the era slaves did not consider their precarious situation as an extension of their slavery. To the contrary, they regarded many aspects of these agreements as securing their and their children’s well-being since they were far from self-sufficiency right after gaining their freedom.

In this regard, one important implication of Lima’s study is that it reveals the importance of questioning the meaning and effects of taken for granted concepts. As Lima underlines, the language of freedom was important given the transforming politico-economic relations of the era. Yet its content was rather ambiguous. He insightfully points out that the notion of freedom itself has very rarely been discussed, and this is a contemporary problem as much as a historical one. The dominant discourses of a given era might cloud one’s judgment of the quality of one’s freedom as in the case of these newly freed slaves. Today’s dominant liberal discourse may also cloud our judgment about the quality and extent of our freedom. Freedom defined through a contractual logic suggests that the slaves were free to enter into the contracts that changed their status from slave to free people. Among the limited options the slave chose their freedom whose substance lacks significant characteristics of liberty. The illusion of choice here is very similar to the choices that we make in the 21st Century each time we choose to be parties to unfair labor contracts.

~ Sumru Atuk

Mert Peksen: Commentary on Linda Tropp’s “Contact, Trust, and Social Inclusion: Immigrant-Native Relations in the United States”

Linda Tropp – 10/27/2016

Does having more contact with other groups reduce prejudice? Do people welcome the groups with whom they interact, and do they feel more welcomed by them? Does frequency, quality and location of interactions between groups matter? Do people transfer good interaction experiences with one group to their interactions with other groups? These were the main questions that Linda Tropp, professor of social psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, addressed in her talk at the ARC seminar on October 27th. Her main focus was the topic of intergroup contact and the issue of welcoming different populations into communities, particularly in the context of the relations between US-born and immigrant groups.

Tropp began her talk by explaining some of the major concepts in her research and addressing the main questions in the literature. As she and her colleagues established in their meta-analysis of the literature, greater contact is associated with less prejudice. 94 percent of the approximately 500 international studies they analyzed show that there is an inverse correlation between interaction and prejudice. She pointed out that while most studies focus on the interaction of immigrant and US-born populations in terms of the exposure of one group to another, such studies are not clear about what actually happens when groups meet and have meaningful face-to-face interactions in neighborhoods, work places, and public spaces.

In her talk, Linda Tropp presented two major aspects of the research that she and her research team have been conducting over the last several years. In their overall research, they analyze the quality and frequency of interactions between US-born Whites, US-born Blacks, foreign-born Mexicans, and foreign-born Indians in the context of the Philadelphia and Atlanta metropolitan areas. Philadelphia and Atlanta were chosen because of their longstanding presence of Black and White American populations, while recent immigration to these areas have also diversified the racial composition. Moreover, these cities have been actively promoting the idea of being a “welcoming city” through various campaigns and civil society programs. The part of the research that she presented at the ARC specifically addressed the idea of welcoming. She asked whether increased interaction with other groups makes people more welcoming, and whether people feel more welcomed when they interact with other groups.

In order to answer these questions, the researchers designed a telephone survey using a total of 250 respondents from each group in each city (total N=2000). In addition to the telephone survey, they conducted around 320 in-depth interviews in the area.  In terms of overall contact with other groups, there is a generally positive level of interaction among groups, especially at work places and in public space. There is less overall contact with Mexicans, which implies a certain level of isolation that might be related to issues regarding the type of work they do, language barriers, or their legal status. These issues were later addressed in the Q and A section. In terms of welcoming others and being welcomed by their community, Tropp’s research illustrates that Whites and Blacks tend to be slightly more welcoming toward each other than they are to immigrant groups, whereas Mexicans are less welcoming than US-born populations, as well as than Indian immigrants, to outside groups. Overall, there is a positive correlation between the level of interaction and positive welcoming attitudes.

Another part of her presentation addressed the question of whether the quality and frequency of interactions with one group influence the attitudes toward another groups. Her research shows that there is a secondary transfer effect caused by interactions between groups. For instance, increased contact with Blacks enhances Whites’ receptivity toward other migrant groups.

Linda Tropp’s research has important implications. First, we can argue that spatial and social segregation create a less welcoming society for everyone, because they structurally decrease the possibility of contacts with other groups. Moreover, while it may seem at a first glance that groups have significant exposure to one another in public spaces, she pointed out that exposure and meaningful contact are two different things. High exposure to other groups with less meaningful interaction, in fact, might actually create more prejudice. Therefore, based on her research findings we can argue that in order to overcome prejudices between groups and to create a more inclusive society, there is a need to create more opportunities for interaction and to design spaces in which groups actually meet and get to know each other. These spaces could range from more inclusive public spaces to schools and work places that are more racially diverse.

Mert Peksen

 

 

Demet Arpacik: Commentary on Angela Reyes’ Language, Mix, and the Postcolonial Elite

This week’s presentation by Dr. Reyes was a very good analysis of the convoluted relations of coloniality, class, race with the language in the center in the Philippines today. She first gave a historical trajectory of coloniality in the country under the Spanish and American rules. Then, she analyzed the current discourse around the Conyo register, a term that was historically used to refer to different groups of people who were the power holders, but lately came to also assume a form of linguistic register of the rich elite. Conyo is a Spanish word that literally refers to women’s genitals, but it was assigned new meanings throughout the colonial times; first used to refer to people of Spanish origin, and then to mixed races and lately to the Philippine elite.  She then, by putting the listening subject at the center, instead of the speaking subject, tried to understand the implications of Conyo language register (a mix of English and Tagalog with certain iconized features) after colonial times.

Reyes first described the Philippines as a bifurcated national state with non-Christian darker skinned savages (as it is generally referred) on one end of the spectrum and white Christians or mixed breeds on the other end of the power relations. During colonial times, the Mestizos (a mix of Spaniards and the local people) were the middle people, who on the one hand were seen as inferior to the Spanish rulers and but who, on the other hand, were holding higher status compared to the local people. For this reason, Mestizos had a very dubious representation in the eyes of the Spanish because while they were Spaniards’ best collaborators to enact colonial rules, Mestizos were still seen as having the blood of the local people and therefore were perceived by Spanish as treacherous and dangerous. After the end of colonial rule, there was a visible case of new subjectivity of the colonial elite (Mestizos mainly), who still ensures the enactment of colonial structures in the absence of a colonial rule. This privileged group keeps colonial structure intact and uses it for their own advantage. The most recent indicator of this situation is language. “Language is mapped on the race” stated Dr. Reyes and it holds an essential meaning in terms of the questions of coloniality. Since language has been a determining aspect in colonial times, those who spoke English or Spanish, have had de facto access to knowledge and positions of power.

The current language trends or ways of speaking are illustrations of changing interior alterities in the Philippines. Conyo is a type of speech that is believed to be characteristic of the rich elite Filipinos who mix English with Tagalog and use certain features of speech to differentiate themselves from the rest of the people. The term is now used not only to define a certain form of register, but also to describe a certain group of people who speak this register. It does not refer to real people, but rather to the objects of commentary.

Reyes stated that Mestizos or Filipino elite has middle class nationalist consciousness, a consciousness that is not completely restricted to an economic class, but to a class that aspires to have some material strength. Formation of this class cannot be understood without the analysis of Tanglish and Conyo way of speaking. After the end of colonial rule, the subject positions were redefined around different axis; distinct forms of speech being the most effective in determining subject positions. Conyo also came out of this consciousness and it is now coded as a different form of register. Two features are iconized in this register; mixedness (mix of English and Tagalog) and excessiveness (too many features that are highly used and are viewed as exaggeration). Mixedness and excessiveness extend beyond the description of Conyo register and are also used to describe Conyo people as speakers of this register. Conyo people are seen to aim for modernity and are very invested in keeping colonial relations. As a result of their representations by listening subjects, Conyo people (both an abstract and an embodied term) grapple with their postcolonial subjectivities. Dr. Reyes showed us a few listening subjects, who can be either rich people but not speak this register or local people who have other registers, interpreting this register and analyzing its features. Among these were videos of a young Filipino boy and an American Filipina woman who imitated Conyo speakers and used pejorative words to describe them. The boy even wrote an article called “10 Conyo Amendments” that listed 10 rules of Conyo register.

The presentation was a very good analysis of intersectionality of language, race, class to determine current forms of representation and power relations in today’s Philippines. It revealed the non-formal, yet very real forms of linguistic register, Conyo’s reinterpretation along the lines of race and class. Term Conyo carries the legacy of colonial times and the fact that it is still used to define a group of people, Filipino elite, tells much about the current relations between different groups of people. I would like to hear more about the term Conyo’s sexist reference and historical evolution. While distinct forms of linguistic registers are common among elite groups of almost any society, the Conyo case in the Philippines is special because it is also imbricated with race relations and colonial subjectivities.

~ Demet Arpacik

Ian Haberman on John Goering’s ‘Fiscal Austerity and Housing Inequality’

On Thursday, September 15th, Dr. John Goering of Baruch College and the Graduate Center presented joint research done with Dr. Christine Whitehead of the London School of Economics.  The presentation, titled Fiscal Austerity and Housing Inequality: US and UK from 2010 – 2026, takes a comparative approach to analyzing the causal relationship between austerity and housing inequality.

Dr. Goering’s presentation of the joint paper focused on the United States’ housing policy, using the United Kingdom policy framework to highlight policy difference.  The comparison between the two countries is natural, as both countries introduced significant austerity policies in the wake of the 2008 global recession.  The very conception of this research was born out of these austerity policies, as funding for another project was unexpectedly denied due to the funding cuts being enacted.

Surprisingly, not much is known about the impact of cutting funding to public housing programs.  However, Goering makes a few observations in the wake of austerity policies.  These policies hurt people living in poor communities, but can benefit more affluent communities, and welfare programs that are not cut provide enormous help to combat the negative impacts of austerity.

Several of these observations are mirrored by others.  Shaun Edwards finds that austerity measures adopted at the federal level lead to a tightening at the state level that further exacerbates the impact on the most vulnerable citizens.[1]  While Paul Krugman takes a comprehensive look at how austerity policies have failed, in no uncertain terms, noting that “Since the global turn to austerity in 2010, every country that introduced significant austerity has seen its economy suffer, with the depth of the suffering closely related to the harshness of the austerity.”[2]  The consensus view is clear; austerity has not delivered the benefits its champions promised.

Austerity has not cut funding from all social programs equally.  Funding for public housing was cut by $1.6 billion from 2010 to 2016, and these cuts occurred despite an increased need for housing support.  Since 2003, Renters facing severe rent burden has increased steadily from 6.4 million to 9.7 million, making up 8.4% of all households.[3]  These numbers are projected to go even higher through 2025, as funding is projected to dwindle.  This mismatch of supply and demand has led to closed waiting lists at public housing authorities, resulting increases in various forms of homelessness.

These disparities are even worse for people of color.  There is still strong discrimination in the rental market, homeownership rates are much lower, and income inequality much higher – leaving people of color more vulnerable to the increasing cost of housing.  Goering highlights a report which finds African Americans were quoted higher rents and security deposits or were told no apartments were available, compared to whites interacting with the same rental agent.[4]  Homeownership statistics display a similar picture with white homeownership rates and 72.9% and black rates at 43.3%.[5]  To address this disparities and increase the effectiveness of public housing, systemic, institutional changes are needed.

The presentation concluded by looking at the future landscape, highlighting potential policies that would improve this environment, and identifying potential pitfalls.  Goering sees government assistance to the housing poor continuing to diminish both in the United States and the United Kingdom.  In the case of continued income inequality and, hence, growing public frustration with government, it is likely increased government involvement will be shunned despite potential advantages.  As governments enact further austerity policies and housing values further prop up rents, housing insecurity will rise and the numbers of the housing poor will increase.  Additionally, the move to privatize the housing stock will increase, removing the few remaining public options for those in need.  In the United States, homeownership will continue to be a strength and those that own will continue to benefit from a supportive tax code.  In the United Kingdom, the shift from permanent, lifelong services will continue toward 5-year term limits targeting lower income households.

The presentation put forward two primary ideal policy responses.  First, building on the success of tax credits by roughly tripling these allocations from the current $7 billion to around $15-25 billion.  The second desired policy response is to add $30 billion a year dedicated to rental vouchers for the very poorest.  The first policy designed to increase supply-side housing stock and the second targeting demand-side funding for the housing poor.  Of course, these policies face several pitfalls in the current political environment.  Goering notes that these policies face political headwinds.  Funding increases for polices already on the “chopping block” are unlikely, let alone introducing new funding for vouchers.  The continuation of austerity policies will keep pressure on the trend of increased housing poverty.

 

~ Ian Haberman

 

Citations:

[1] – Edwards, Shaun. “The Downstream Effect of Fiscal Austerity.” Chicago Policy Review (Online) (2015).

[2] – Krugman, Paul. “The austerity delusion.” The Guardian, 29th April (2015).

[3] – Steffen, Barry L. “Worst case housing needs 2015: Report to Congress.” (Online) (2015).

[4] – Freiberg, Fred. “Racial Discrimination in Housing: Underrated and Overlooked.” Fair Housing Justice Center (Online) (2013).

[5] – Morial, Mark. “Locked Out: Education, Jobs & Justice.” 2016 State of Black America. National Urban League (Online) (2016).

 

Nora Goldman: Commentary on Elana Shohamy’s “Linguistic Landscape as a Lens for Interpreting Societies Critically and its Contribution to Education and Learning.”

As Elana Shohamy, Professor of Language Education at Tel Aviv University’s School of Education, prepared to introduce the concept of linguistic landscapes to the ARC cohort, she was confident it would be accessible even to those who had never heard the phrase before.  Everyone present, she observed, was motivated by an interest in inequality and a desire for social justice.  It soon became clear that Shohamy’s work indeed transcends the disciplinary boundaries of linguistics or education, and is at its core concerned with equality.

A linguistic landscape, as Shohamy explained, includes all language in public spaces—signage, graffiti, advertisements, and anything else you can read when you go out in the world.  However, she was quick to stress that language alone does not make up the linguistic landscape.  All symbols can be “read”, and Shohamy’s work takes a broad view, arguing that the full semiotic landscape includes not just written linguistic symbols, but also buildings, art, sounds, smells, and human beings themselves.  Once one learns how to read the linguistic landscape, it serves as a window into much deeper societal issues: the social, political, economic, and educational realities of a community.  She argues that a linguistic landscape is a lens through which countless social issues can be discovered and analyzed, making this research relevant to all social scientists.

Shohamy’s work focuses on use of Hebrew, Arabic, and English in Israel.  Despite the passing of a law in 1999 requiring major freeway signs and street signs in integrated cities to be in both Hebrew and Arabic, the linguistic landscape remains a very uneven representation of Israel’s multilingualism.  To demonstrate this empirically, Shohamy and Eliezer Ben-Rafael (2006) conducted a quantitative study to determine the numerical breakdown of public language representation in multilingual cities.  They found that linguistic landscapes reflected the ideology and social realities of their communities, but not necessarily their demographics. In heavily Jewish areas, for example, Hebrew and English were the primary languages of public signage, whereas signs in Arab communities were almost exclusively in Arabic and Hebrew, with very little English peppered in.  In the contested region of East Jerusalem, the linguistic landscape was overwhelmingly Arabic and English, with hardly any Hebrew.

Ideology is also often transparent in the linguistic landscape as a result of top-down propaganda campaigns. Whether a city is attempting to turn inward and emphasize its essential Israeli-ness (as Tel-Aviv did with its Hebrew-only decorations for its centennial celebration) or present itself as a bastion of tolerance and multiculturalism to attract tourists, the government’s desired image is reflected in the language of its public spaces.  Unequal language representation can have obvious alienating effects on those excluded by the linguistic landscape, but can also have an observable practical impact.  If emergency exits and safety instructions are only labeled in Hebrew, for example, Arabic speakers do not have the same access to these public service announcements. Furthermore, the educational implications of exclusion from the linguistic landscape are striking.  In Hebrew-dominated areas, children who learn Hebrew in school can leave the classroom and remain surrounded by the medium of instruction.  But the Arabic-speaking children do not share the experience of continuous exposure to their mother tongue both inside and outside the classroom.

So what are we to do about the inequality of public spaces?  The goal of Shohamy’s work is to raise awareness of the importance of the linguistic landscape and to harness it for pedagogical purposes.  The linguistic landscape contains multitudes of insights that remain untapped by educators.  To illustrate the potential of incorporating the linguistic landscape into a curriculum, Shohamy shared a few illustrative anecdotes.  In one, high school students in the heterogeneous town of Jaffa documented the linguistic landscape in their community.  Before doing so, they all expected Arabic to be the best represented language in their data, reflecting the demographics of the area, but were surprised to find that Arabic was hardly attested at all.  The linguistic landscape they had inhabited for years had been mostly invisible to them until they were forced to examine it critically.  Shohamy also shared a personal anecdote starring her own granddaughter, whom she took linguistic-landscape-exploring.  When they came across an anti-war graffito, an intergenerational critical discussion ensued about the current state of political unrest in the region.  If educators incorporate the linguistic landscape into their pedagogical approach, the opportunities for critical thinking and debate are endless.  We are living in a giant text, Shohamy’s work tells us, so why aren’t we reading it?

References:

Ben-Rafael, Eliezer, et al. “Linguistic landscape as symbolic construction of the public space: The case of Israel.” International Journal of Multilingualism3.1 (2006): 7-30.

~Nora Goldman

Commentary on Lourdes Follins’ “Lifting Voices: Experiences and Perceptions of Historically Underrepresented Faculty at Three CUNY Community Colleges” by ARC Student Fellow Kalina Gjicali

As the largest urban public higher education system in the country, CUNY represents a diverse population on all levels: from students to faculty. Although this diversity is often praised, we must think if the diversity of the faculty represents the diversity of the student body as well as how underrepresented faculty members are being supported in their roles in academia. Historically underrepresented faculty members mere presence in higher education institutions enhances performance and enriches the educational experiences of all students. Although there’s much literature to support this, much of this research is not reflected in practice. And despite the underrepresentation of people of color, LGBTQ, and disabled persons as faculty members, a greater challenge comes with: What are the experiences of these faculty members in higher education institutions, what are their social support systems, how are they navigating and understanding opportunities for tenure, promotion, and reappointment? These research questions are investigated in a tale of three community colleges of CUNY: LaGuardia Community College, Kingsborough Community College, and Bronx Community College.

Throughout CUNY community colleges, the student body is composed of 86% people of color and 44 % of the faculty body is people of color. There is an apparent discrepancy between who is in the seats of classrooms and who is standing in front of the room. The goal is not necessarily about making it an equal ratio; it is about following the research about the added benefits of having underrepresented faculty members on college campuses. However, for the historically underrepresented faculty members who are working on college campuses, it becomes imperative to know what are the experiences of these faculty members when it comes to recruitment, retention, promotion, and tenure?

Preliminary analyses of interviews done with over 60 faculty members across the campuses mentioned, indicated different levels of satisfaction with teaching when compared to compensation, feelings of microaggression, and feelings of separation from the full-time faculty in their departments. Most participants said that they love their job and love their students, but were dissatisfied with salary (typical 27 hour teaching load – 9 courses per for full-time faculty). Female faculty of color felt racial and gender microaggressions (e.g., were perceived as incompetent instructors by their students). Additionally, some participants indicated that they were not satisfied with their school’s efforts to diversify faculty.

There were a few recommendations that were generated as a result of this discussion: (1) on the issue of inequity – need to promote general appeal and concern for teaching in community colleges (2) understand How does one know about positions at CUNY? How does CUNY reach people? What is the dissemination of information to faculty in community colleges? (3) And promoting mentorship – What does that mean and what does it look like? Are only department chairs available to non-tenured faculty just once a year? What would a model for ongoing, constructive feedback look like?

~Kalina Gjicali

Commentary on Jose Cao-Alvira’s “On Bank Microcredit and Access to Formal Credit” by ARC Student Fellow Nishant Yonzan

“This is not charity. This is business: business with a social objective, which is to help people get out of poverty.” – Muhammad Yunus on Microcredit (Founder of Grameen Bank; Nobel Laureate)

Microcredit is a concept established to assist the poorest of the poor break out from the cycle of poverty. It provides small uncollateralized loans to help individuals and families make productive investments – for example to buy a cow so that they can sell milk, to buy a sewing machine so that they can set up a tailor shop, etc. These are usually informal economic activities that have low return and low market demand. Hence, these individuals, prior to the emergence of microcredit, were considered “not bankable” by the formal financial sector.

The impact of microcredit/microfinance on poverty has been mixed. The emergence of microcredit in the 1990s, with Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank, was a source of hope for a solution to global poverty. Jonathan Murdoch in his 1999 paper wrote “… the promise remains that microfinance may be an important aid for households that are not destitute but still remain considerably below poverty lines.”[1] Although Murdoch saw opportunities, he was also skeptical of the high costs associated with lending small loans to many people compared to lending large amount to few. By early 2000s hope had turned to celebrations. Microcredit was considered the panacea to solve global poverty. It was poverty fighting at two fronts: helping the really poor escape poverty and at the same time empowering women within these poor households. Like many, Khandker for his World Bank 2005 paper, found that microfinance contributes to poverty reductions, especially for women, both at a personal level and also at the local village level.[2] But, by the late 2000s, effectiveness microcredit/microfinance was being challenged by a host of researchers. Banerjee et al.(2015) conducted a randomized trial in Hyderabad, India, providing microcredit to one group of households but not to another; they did not find any significant changes due to this microcredit on health, education, or women empowerment among the households that received this credit.[3]

Despite the fact, there are merits to microcredit in the developing world where poor households face stifling credit constraints. As a result, there has been a mushrooming growth of microcredit lending institutions over the last 20 years. One of the byproducts of increased access to microcredit is the growing heterogeneity in the market for lenders and the differentiated products.

In one of his trips to Colombia, Jose, ever curios about this market, started asking people about the interest rates on these microcredit loans. To his surprise, he got a universally coherent response. No matter whom he asked, the answer was ‘usury rate’. Usury rate is the highest rate that can legally be charged by regulated financial institutions – mostly traditional banks. Unregulated Micro Finance Institutions (MFI) and Non-Government Organizations (NGO) are exempt from the cap. Colombia, one of many countries, issues an interest rate cap. Intrigued, he and his coauthor, Luca G. Deidda, started exploring the effect of this interest rate constraint on the market for microcredit. In particular, he wanted to understand the mechanism by which traditional banks entered the microcredit market and the effect of interest rate caps on this credit market. Described below is his ongoing project:

Today the lending market for microfinance is very heterogeneous. The lenders not only include traditional MFIs and NGOs but also traditional banks, who have been induced into the microfinance market by its apparent profitability. Although the philosophy of microcredit has changed, from helping the poor to making a profit, the argument for increased competition is that they lend at a lesser cost to the poor reducing interest rates that are on average as high as 30% from the traditional MFI/NGO channel.

Banks, ‘downscaling’ into the microcredit market, need an efficient method to screen the previously unbanked microcredit lenders.

José and Luca explore the coexistence of microcredit lending for a bank alongside its standard loan practices, in a model of a competitive credit market characterized by adverse selection. Potential borrowers are heterogeneous both with respect to their ability to repay loans and to the degree of informational transparency about such ability. Lenders (banks), while not informed about borrowers’ type, have access to a costly screening technology such that – by devoting enough time to screen applicants – they can extract an informative signal about their ability to repay. The authors identify the characteristics of economic environments where (i) both types of credits are offered by the bank, (ii) only traditional credit is offered, and (iii) only microcredit is offered. According to José and Luca’s model, the emergence of bank microcredit always results in a higher degree of participation in the credit market, provided that adverse selection is not too extreme, and microcredit is viable.

The authors empirically test the main predictions of their model using three comprehensive data sets. The first of the data sets is an international cross-section of bank MFIs, the second is a panel of bank-level data from the Colombian banking sector, and the third is a panel of individual loan data from a Colombian bank which downscaled into microcredit. The estimated results from analyzing the data sets show a significant impact of bank microcredit and financial liberalization on the broader population’s access to formal credit along the lines predicted by the model.

 

– Nishant Yonzan

 

[1] Murdoch, Jonathan. “The Microfinance Promise.” Journal of Economic Literature (1999): 1569-1614.

[2] Khandker, Shahidur R. “Microfinance and poverty: Evidence using panel data from Bangladesh.” The World Bank Economic Review 19.2 (2005): 263-286.

[3] Banerjee, Abhijit, et al. “The miracle of microfinance? Evidence from a randomized evaluation.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 7.1 (2015): 22-53.

 

Commentary by ARC Student Fellow Jessie Fredlund on John Georing’s ‘Austerity and Inequality: A Potentially Fateful Linkage’

In his talk “Austerity and Inequality: A Potentially Fateful Linkage,” John Goering, professor of Political Science at the CUNY Graduate Center and Public Affairs at Baruch College, shared research he is presently conducting with colleague Christine Whitehead, Professor of Housing Economics at the London School of Economics. This project examines the contexts, contents and outcomes of austerity policies implemented in the United States and the United Kingdom since 2010. The opportunity for this research knocked in an unusual way – the authors found their proposals to conduct research in public housing authorities unexpectedly denied due to looming budget cuts, the result of new austerity policies. Recognizing the importance of the moment and the opportunity afforded by the parallel situations in the U.S. and the U.K., Goering and Whitehead launched a comparative study of the impact of austerity on housing in the two countries. Like the austerity policies themselves, this research is still unfolding.

One of the early results of this research suggests that austerity policies in the U.S. and U.K., while commencing nearly simultaneously, differ significantly in the political climate and political discourses that surround them. For instance, in the U.K., national debt has been an explicit issue in recent campaigns, but has had less political traction in the United States. Also, while the U.K. has enacted a mixture of tax policies, including both tax cuts and tax increases, political opposition has prevented virtually any increase in taxes in the U.S. In the U.S., Goering noted, austerity policies were enacted in a climate of growing distrust of government. In a 2015 Gallup poll, nearly half of Americans agreed that “the federal government poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens,” up from 30% in 2003.[i] Austerity policies in the United States must be understood in light of this anti-government sentiment.

Goering and Whitehead’s interest in austerity policies follows on longstanding engagements with issues of housing. In both the U.S. and the U.K., housing programs have been heavily impacted by austerity measures, despite ongoing shortages of affordable housing. In the U.K., where public housing programs have touched a broader spectrum of lower and middle class households, lifelong tenancy rights to public housing have been reduced to five year leases. Similar policies are being tested in the U.S. on a smaller scale. Austerity policies in the U.S. have also spelled the end of federal funding for housing for the elderly and disabled, and existing public housing authorities have seen a sharp decline in funds available for maintenance of existing properties. In addition, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is experimenting with various forms of privatization, especially through its Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance program.

While many scholars have highlighted the negative impacts of austerity policies on low income households, Goering’s research suggests these policies may worsen more than just gaps in income and wealth. They are also positioned to further widen racial inequality. In the U.S., decades of discriminatory policies and practices have led to significant racial disparities in home ownership and have entrenched racial segregation in residential areas across the country. Anti-integrationist opposition and violence continue to enforce racial boundaries and limit opportunities for households of color. While austerity policies may not contain the explicitly discriminatory dimensions of the policies of decades past, they are implemented in a context already profoundly shaped by racial inequality. While federal policies that benefit homeowners have remained largely sheltered from austerity policies, the budget cuts to housing programs continue to impact rental markets for low and middle income families. In this context, it seems inevitable that the burdens of austerity will fall unevenly across racial as well as class divides.

With this bleak vision of growing inequality, what can be done to work toward more equitable and secure housing today? Goering’s modest policy suggestions – tax credits, rental vouchers and repairs to existing public housing – are virtual pipe dreams the contemporary political climate of the United States. As Goering and Whitehead point out, both the public and the government have found austerity preferable to policies that would de-concentrate wealth. The question then becomes more difficult: is a shift in political momentum possible, or is increasing austerity and deepening inequality an inevitability of history?

 

[i] Frank Newport. “Half in U.S. Continue to Say Gov’t Is an Immediate Threat.” Gallup, 21 Sept. 2015, www.gallup.com/poll/185720/half-continue-say-gov-immediate-threat.aspx/

Commentary on David Scott’s ‘The Life and Work of Stuart Hall’ by ARC Student Fellow Marc Kagan.

David Scott, On the Problems of Writing Biography.

“What does it mean to write a life, to give intellectual character to a life?” David Scott, Columbia University professor of Anthropology, asked, as he wrestles with a different type of writing than he has done before, a planned biography of Stuart Hall. “Why Hall? Why biography?” As Scott is still grappling with these questions, much of his talk was about the problems he faces rather than his solutions.

An expatriate from Jamaica in his youth, Hall was an early participant in the founding of the British New Left and a leading light in the Cultural Studies and Black Arts movements. He was at the center of debates about identity, neo-liberalism and Thatcherism, the diaspora, Gramsci and Althusser. Yet Hall, Scott said, was a theorist without one big theory or methodology. Rather, he sought to “bend the twig from where it was stuck…. To ask a new kind of question.”

As a very public intellectual, Hall became almost the metaphorical or figurative embodiment of some of these historical conjunctures, their converging and diverging moments. Other intellectuals saw themselves through Hall, or found themselves refracted through Hall’s work. Later in his life, reflecting on his ideas and work in interviews and discussions with Scott, the real and actual Stuart Hall would find himself face to face with the ways he was perceived and represented. As the GC’s own David Nasaw wrote, in the introduction to a group of articles on biography he moderated in 2009, biography shows, “lives in dialectical relationship to the multiple social, political and cultural worlds they inhabit and give meaning to.”[1]

But how to best write this story? Clearly, an intellectual biography of ideas does not capture the largest meaning of Hall’s life. One approach is to place Hall’s work in the context of the succession of intellectual and political movements with which he was engaged. Alice Kessler-Harris has written that biography allows us to see individual or small group agency conflicting or aligning with broader social and political structures; we can see a person fall in and out of fashion with their times. “We will learn something if we watch the weather change, the value systems shift, the storm descend and retreat: as we observe the engaged life struggle to maintain its balance.”[2] Thus, near the end of his life, Scott suggested, Hall engaged less successfully with radical Islam.

A somewhat different approach is to place Hall’s work in the context of his life as a Jamaican entering still-imperial Britain. While Britain made Hall in a way that Jamaica couldn’t or didn’t, Scott is intrigued by the figure of Hall leaving his native land at 18, in 1951, wholly or partially formed by his colonial (family, school, social, and political) experience. Yet, if Scott assesses Hall on the boat, is this already teleological, denying contingency? And if you assume that Hall’s experiences produced a mindset on decolonization, race, and class, how far to cast the net in comparison? In the discussion that followed Scott’s talk, it was noted that Hall’s youthful milieu also produced Derek Walcott and V.S. Naipaul, other products of a British education intended to produce a “civilized” local elite. Following this line of thought further might lead us out of the Empire to the French Caribbean’s Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon, or a back a generation and out of conventional periodization, to C.L.R. James, or across the ocean, to Nehru and Gandhi. These issues also impact on how or whether Scott will place himself in the story, as a Jamaican expatriate of a later generation, yet still, he said, an object of the civilizing mission.

Scott is also enmeshed in the story as a familiar of Hall in his later years, raising issues of distance. In discussion, Scott was asked whether he was in danger of writing a “love letter” to Hall. He responded with a confession that Hall had characterized a Scott communication with him in exactly those terms. Of course, proximity also gives Scott particular insights not always available to the biographer. It allows him the luxury, and also the burden, of weighing the significance when Hall’s and other people’s accounts of the same stories diverged. Hall’s extended interviews with Scott were, in a sense, his own effort to give meaning and coherence to his own life – how much to privilege them? In what ways do the choices Hall made in these discussions provide evaluative grist for the analytic and contextual mill of unpacking Hall’s life? The problem of “I know too much” is obviously a good one to have, yet it imposes fiercer and harder requirements and demands on the author to really see his subject.  

~Marc Kagan.

 

[1] David Nasaw, “AHR Roundtable: Historians and Biography – Introduction,” The American Historical Review. 114, no. 3 (2009): 573.

[2] Alice Kessler-Harris, “Why Biography?,” The American Historical Review. 114, no. 3 (2009): 625.