The Genealogy of Microfinance

“…the corpse of a debtor found no peace from the creditor even in the grave.” [1]

The second essay of Nietzsche’s “The Genealogy of Morality” draws a framework of contractual relationship between creditor and debtor in order to illuminate the concepts of “guilt” and “bad conscience” in the context of genealogy. For Nietzsche this creditor- debtor relationship is basic forms of buying, selling, bartering, trade and traffic.[2] Thus, the economy seems more ethico-political and involves the morality of the promise. When we examine the logic of the current neoliberal economic policies; it can be interpreted in the light of Nietzschian and Foucaldian approaches since these policies are based on the creating of moral judgments and include the techniques of “governmentality”. Hence, I will try to analyze the logic of microcredit program which is the main drive of neoliberal microfinance system.

Modern microcredit system is mostly related with Muhammad Yunus Grameen Bank model, which was implemented in 1976, in Bangladesh. The main target of the system is to create loan mechanisms which provide the involvement of the poor to the market. Microfinance has adopted by neoliberal economies as means of social policy program in order to ensure the participation of poor to the market and the logic behind the system is that the poor will get rid of poverty by themselves. Instead of radical reforms and insurance programs, the participation to the market is seen as a way of development. Muhammed Yunus’s Grameen Bank model of microcredit has spread throughout the world especially in poor countries as a new solution to the poverty.  However, there are strong arguments which claim that microcredit system use disciplinary power in order to guarantee the repayment and the design of the system. Actually, the microcredit system fits into the Nietzsche’s creditor-debtor analogy. First of all, I will explain the logic of the system by using Nietzsche’s approach and then I will explain the “governmentality” logic in the system by referring Foucault.

Lazzarato, in his book, “The Making of Indebted Man” emphasizes that the economy have become Nietzschean in the sense that it seems no longer solely objective but it is more subjective since it is based on the personal evaluation mechanisms.[3] For Lazzarato, genealogy is a kind of temporality and subjectivity which is created both for conserving the past and creating a memory for the future. The mechanism of the debt includes a “promise” for the future and Nietzsche argues that the debtor pawns something to the creditor in the case of nonpayment (his wife, his freedom, his life etc.) in order to guarantee his repayment and the creditor can inflict all forms of dishonor and torture on the body of debtor. Thus, creditor enjoys with the violating as a right of the master and punishes the debtor. Also, there is a creation of morality of “debt”, “consciousness” and “duty” by the legal obligations of contract. [4]  In the case of nonpayment, this morality creates the feeling of “guilt”.[5] This sense of guilt and responsibility is the subjectivity which is created by the debt mechanisms and for Lazzarato, this effect of debt economy allows capitalism to bridge the gap between present and the future.[6]

The microcredit system especially targets women who suffer from poverty. The system tries to provide credit in order to ensure the participation of women to the market in the sense that they can only get out from the poverty circle by participating to the market. It is totally a neoliberal economic idea which is based on the logic that is the poor have the capacity to sustain their lives and that the reason for poverty is not lack of their skills, but a lack of access to the capital for entrepreneurship. [7] The system is seen as crucial mechanisms of new neoliberal welfare regimes; however it is strongly criticized in the sense that microfinance projects disempower women by reinforcing them to the market imperatives.[8] These market imperatives create exclusion and dispossession of people; thus they are far from serving as a solution to the poverty which has also social dimension and it is embedded in social and cultural framework. In addition, they are also ways of implementation of neoliberal policies to the all segments of society rather than welfare mechanisms. Yükseker uses Harvey’s concept of the “commodification of everything” while he is mentioning justification of market discipline and the creation of markets and private property rights in every aspect of social life. Therefore, the poverty is tried to be eliminated in the context of neoliberal welfare mechanisms by ensuring the commodification of daily practices of women.  This kind of logic gives the debtor the feeling of “guilt” since the debtor accuse themselves in the case of nonpayment or unsuccessfulness in the market because the imperative of contract has a disciplinary power on the individual and legitimizes the using imperatives of the creditor on debtor. For Nietzsche; “The ‘creditor’ always becomes more humane as his wealth increases; finally, the amount of his wealth determines how much injury he can sustain without suffering from it.”[9] Thus, his humanity and subjectivity is recreating by the morality of debtor which is itself a created mechanism by the contract.

The creation of debtor morality is related with the subjectification process which is both highlighted by Nietzsche and Foucault. Foucault gives a genealogical account like Nietzsche in the sense that he concentrates on how our subjectivity are shaped. It is not a historical account but it is a genealogical account.[10] According to Saar, “genealogies are stories told about the historical emergence and transformation of concepts, practices or institutions that relate to the making of selves by influencing their self-understanding and way of conduct.” [11]The connection between Nietzsche and Foucault lies behind this account. Foucault approach to the power relations is actually based on the genealogy.

Microcredit system can be given as a good sample of power relations.  For Thomas Lemke, in Foucauldian terminology the power relations does not only result with the removing of the liberty or options but also it could result in an “empowerment” or “responsibilisation” of subjects, forcing them to “free” decision-making in fields of action.[12] Lemke argues that the political economy relies on a “political anatomy of the body”.[13] Furthermore, Foucault also argues that the art of the government cannot be considered as limited with the politics as separated from economy but it is also an element of economic government. [14] The logic of the microcredit is actually creates a moral judgment mechanisms among debtors.  The system is based on “group lending” and the women in the groups have to be guarantor for each other.  Thus it creates control mechanisms among peers in order to ensure the repayment. It is not a direct coercion but it is actually a disciplinary mechanism. There are compulsory meetings which are held every week for payment. All debtors in the district came together and these meetings actually can be interpreted as means for “peer pressure”. It is totally a process of responsibilisation of subjects. In the case of nonpayment, women feel guilty because their peers, who are her friends or neighbors, have to pay her debt. Therefore women who cannot be successful in the market feel also social pressure. There are certain problems in the system; while poverty stands as a big problem as well as backwardness of market, it is very difficult to join the market and make profit. Especially, the embroidery or handworks product really cannot find clients. Moreover, reaching other regional markets necessitates more capital and it is very difficult to make this with the amount of microcredit which is approximately 750 TL. However, disciplinary mechanism of microcredit creates a morality of debtor and people internalize this morality. It is mostly related with Foucault’s statement that there are power relationships everywhere and we form parts of those relationships. The microfinance case shows us that there is a creation of ethico-political economy and as Lazaratto argues that debt is not only an economic mechanism but it is also a security- technique of government in order to overcome the uncertainty of the behavior of the governed.[15] Lazaratto also argues that credit entails the moral judgment of the debtor and there is a subjective measure of value.

Throughout this article, I tried to examine the microcredit system in the light of Nietzsche’s “The Genealogy of Morality” and Foucault’s “What is Critique” and  the genealogy of microfinance seems valuable and it shows that how neoliberal policies use disciplinary mechanisms and creation of subjectivity in order to ensure its own welfare and continuity. The microcredit system is not only an economic mean but it is also ethico-political mean which implements certain rules of morality on individuals in order to ensure the repayment.


Seren Selvin Korkmaz


[1] Friedrich  Nietzche (1997), “On the Genealogy of Morality” and other writings (selections from), Keith Ansell- Pearson (ed.), Cambridge University Press, p. 40.

[2] Ibid. p.40

[3] Maurizio Lazzarato (2012), The making of Indebted Man: Semiotext/Intervention Series p.43

[4] Nietzsche, p.40-41

[5] Nietzsche, p.45

[6] Lazzarato p.46

[7] Tuğçe Bulut, “Community Matters. A Study of the Interaction of Microcredit Borrowers in Diyarbakır with the Market Economy” New Perspective on Turkey 38 (2008), p. 236

[8] Bulut, p.242

[9]  Nietzche, p.47

[10] POLS 552 Lecture Notes

[11] Martin Saar (2008), “Understanding Genealogy: History, Power and the Self”, Journal of the Philosophy of History 2, p.307.

[12] Thomas Lemke (2000), “Foucault, Governmentality and Critique”, Paper presented at Rethinking Marxism Conference, University of Amherst, p. 5.

[13] Lemke, p.13

[14] Lemke, p. 10

[15] Lazzarato, p.45


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