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The World Bank's risk management approach to poverty as a form of neoliberal governmentality? The case of the "social risk mitigation project" in Turkey

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Title: The World Bank's risk management approach to poverty as a form of neoliberal governmentality? The case of the "social risk mitigation project" in Turkey
Author(s): Yilmaz-Sener, Meltem
Director of Research: Gille, Zsuzsa
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Gille, Zsuzsa
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Ghamari-Tabrizi, Behrooz; Desai, Manisha; Saul, Mahir; Dill, Brian J.
Department / Program: Sociology
Discipline: Sociology
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): poverty world bank neoliberal governmentality social risk management
Abstract: In the 2000/2001 World Development Report, the World Bank offered a new approach named ‘social risk management’ for poverty reduction. The World Bank documents present the aim of social risk management as to provide instruments to the poor and the vulnerable to decrease the impact of being exposed to risk. The empirical focus of this project is the Social Risk Mitigation Project (SRMP) in Turkey, which is a World Bank project that depends on the social risk management framework. Through in-depth interviews, participant observation, and document analysis, this study considers the World Bank’s implementation of the ‘Social Risk Mitigation Project’ by locating it at the intersection of the broad bodies of literature on development, globalization, risk, neoliberalism, and neoliberal governmentality. Here, by doing an ethnographic study, I explain what kind of activities the World Bank executes under a social risk management project, how different actors (World Bank consultants, state institutions and officials, NGOs, scholars, etc.) get involved in the implementation, what kind of power relations take place between these different actors, in which directions institutions are changed, what kind of subjectivities are formed, how local factors and processes intervene, and what kind of (especially unintended) consequences emerge as a result of project implementation. Although development interventions can fail in their own terms, they still have regular effects which may be very different from what was initially intended. Therefore, when I refer to the impacts, I consider both the intended and unintended impacts of the project. I explain some major unintended consequences that have emerged after/due to the execution of this project in Turkey. I contemplate on the consequences of the establishment of a Project Coordination Unit (PCU) by the World Bank to implement the project and demonstrate that creation of such a private body under a public institution leads to significant power struggles. I also explain how the Justice and Development Party (AKP), as a party that redefined social assistance as charity by incorporating Islamic values with neoliberalism, benefited from the SRMP for increasing its public support and how the AKP’s use of this project for its political aims further brought about the creation and spreading of discourses about the poor, the Kurdish population, and the emergence of a culture of poverty in the country. Finally, relying on my interviews with the scholars who did research within the context of the Social Risk Mitigation Project, I elaborate on the question of whether or to what extent this experience of producing knowledge for the World Bank plays a part in the reconstruction of scholars, or in this case Turkish scholars, as neoliberal subjects. I argue that although the researchers are in a position to act as neoliberal subjects in their knowledge production activities, it won’t be accurate to say that they have become neoliberal subjects as a result of this experience. I aim to go beyond describing the unintended consequences of the project and answer the question of why these unintended consequences matter. I argue that outcomes that might appear as side effects of an intervention to alleviate poverty might, according to another perspective, be considered as unintended but instrumental elements in the formation of a configuration that exerts a depoliticizing effect. These outcomes, although not planned or intended, have all been instrumental in depoliticizing poverty and the poor in the country. However, my study of the case of the SRMP also demonstrates that while there is depoliticization at one level, we can also see repoliticization taking place at another level. While the consequence of the project at the level of the recipients has been a depoliticization, what happened at the level of the state officials can be considered as an instance of repoliticization. Both the officials working in the central government institution, SYDGM, but especially the officials working in the local SYDVs became resistant against the World Bank and the upper level administrators who make the decisions to borrow from the World Bank. I also consider what the unintended consequences of this project mean for the World Bank. Although to the general public, the project was presented in a very positive light, if we consider the millions of people who were actually involved in the project whether as implementers or recipients, for many of them, this is either money coming from a source that they do not identify or money they receive irregularly after going through a burdensome process. Not only for these recipients, but also for the local implementers of the project and the state officials who are working in the related state agencies, this project certainly has not created a positive image of the World Bank. This will, without doubt, have negative consequences for the implementation of other World Bank projects in the future.
Issue Date: 2010-05-19
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/16130
Rights Information: Copyright 2010 Meltem Yilmaz-Sener
Date Available in IDEALS: 2010-05-19
Date Deposited: May 2010
 

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