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Indebted: Leaning-in to Empowerment

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Speaker:  Vasuki NesiahDr Vasuki Nesiah, Associate Professor of Practice,  New York University (NYU)
Chair: Dr Ayça Çubukçu, Assistant Professor in Human Rights, Centre for the Study of Human Rights, LSE 
Date: Tuesday 21 March 2017, 6.30 pm - 8.00 pm
Venue: TW2.2.04 (Tower 2, 2nd floor, room 04)

Lauren Berlant argues that one dimension of the cruelty of life under late capitalism is that we get attached to a cluster of promises regarding the good life that are generated by and embedded in conditions that are already not working. Thus we get attached to the very conditions that defeat the fulfillment of those promises. This seems a particularly acute characterization of the structural function of financial debt for the economically vulnerable. Access to credit seduces with cruel optimism – it is intertwined with a cluster of promises regarding the good life while this attachment to living on credit is embedded in conditions of economic dystopia that are precarious and unsustainable.

This chapter probes the work done by the promise of women’s empowerment in an emerging form of governance feminism in post-conflict environments. As a reference point it examines policies enhancing women’s access to credit, property title and entrepreneurship in shaping debt regimes in post-conflict Sri Lanka with adverse and unexpected consequences. The affective structure that debt draws on and engenders is shaped in a dialectic between crisis and stability, despair and promise, austerity and consumption, discipline and empowerment. Feminist arguments for ‘empowerment’ that have this affective resonance, were integrated with technocratic programs for private sector promotion. Thus fused, these  policy commitments ensured that local and global development programs were ‘attached’ to neoliberal agendas for post-war economic recovery.  Given that this channeling of many feminisms to neoliberal economic policy led to debt, dispossession and socio-economic precarity, we need to understand how feminism came to define empowerment in these terms. What array of forces converged to lean-in to cruel optimism?

ICPS research group presents this lecture, which is co-sponsored by the Centre for the Study of Human Rights (@LSEHumanRights), the King's College London Transnational Institute of Law (TLI) and Centre for Critical International Law, Kent Law School

Internationalism, Cosmopolitanism and the Politics of Solidarity (ICPS) is constituted as an interdisciplinary research group. It aims to explore the politics of transnational solidarity by addressing the complications that arise in attempts to define, critique, and practice various strands of internationalism and cosmopolitanism.

The Centre for the Study of Human Rights at LSE is a trans-disciplinary centre of excellence for international academic research, teaching and critical scholarship on human rights.

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