PhD defended at:
Since the initiation of economic reforms in the late 1970s, China has undergone a radical socioeconomic transition, characterised by unprecedented economic growth and poverty reduction, but also rapidly increasing inequality – particularly between rural and urban areas. In recent years this uneven development has been increasingly perceived as a threat to ‘harmonious’ development, and the central government has prioritised the de-marginalisation of the countryside. Key to this development agenda is the incorporation of rural areas into the urban-based market-oriented financial system. For this reason, Chinese development planners have turned to microcredit – i.e. the provision of small-scale loans to ‘financially excluded’ rural households – as a means of increasing ‘financial consciousness’ and facilitating rural de-marginalisation. Drawing on a large original qualitative data set collected during in-depth ethnographic fieldwork in rural Jiangxi Province, this Ph.D. dissertation employs an actor-oriented livelihoods approach to address the question: What role do microcredit programmes play in local processes of socioeconomic development and the livelihoods of diverse local actors? By examining this overarching research question, this study makes a number of original contributions to current understandings of, and debates over, the nexus between microcredit, development and livelihoods in rural China and beyond. First, the research outlines how the heterogeneously implemented microcredit programmes must be understood as emerging from locally (re)produced processes, rather than the inevitable result of top-down causality. Second, the dissertation details how microcredit facilitates de-marginalisation for some, while simultaneously exacerbating the marginalisation of others – thereby contributing to our understanding of the multifaceted, non-linear and relational nature of external ‘impact’. Finally, this study exposes the ways in which external interventions (such as microcredit) reflect the contradictions and paradoxes implicit in rural China’s contemporary development landscape, thereby contributing to wider debates over the nature of rural development in China and other ‘developmental’ contexts.