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The Political Economy of ‘Empowerability’: A Critical Discourse Analysis of the ‘Gender Equality as Smart Economics’ Policy Agenda

Calkin, Sydney (2014) The Political Economy of ‘Empowerability’: A Critical Discourse Analysis of the ‘Gender Equality as Smart Economics’ Policy Agenda. PhD thesis, University of York.

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Abstract

Gender equality initiatives in international development are increasingly dominated by messages about the ‘Smart Economics’ of empowerment and the economic benefits of capitalizing on women’s ‘untapped’ labour power. Which women are represented as most ‘empowerable’ in gender and development discourses, and what structures and processes shape them? This thesis interrogates how women are made visible as development objects by empowerment discourses; to this end, it develops the concept of ‘empowerability’ to critically analyze the discursive terrain of the ‘Smart Economics’ agenda. It uses critical discourse analysis of policy documents, publicity material, and public statements (supplemented by interviews) to examine the World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report, Global Private Sector Leaders Forum, Adolescent Girl Initiative, and Nike Foundation’s Girl Effect campaign. I develop the ‘empowerability’ framework by providing a feminist reading of Foucault’s critique of human capital, in order to map the relationship between bodies, subjectivities, and empowerment interventions. In the empirical chapters that follow, I apply this framework. With reference to the 2012 World Development Report, I demonstrate that empowerment discourses rely on highly exclusionary categories in order to identify ‘empowerable’ subjects, which reproduce essentialist tropes about maternal altruism as an engine for economic growth. They furthermore represent women as altruistic but irrational, non-market actors who require responsibilization through job and life skills training. Drawing on analysis of Bank public-private partnerships, my analysis shows that the narrative of empowerment that emerges from ‘Smart Economics’ literature works to legitimize corporate authority in the development process and position corporations as the actors best place to catalyze the empowerment process. The ‘empowerability’ framework shows that the dominant mode of empowerment deployed in ‘Smart Economics’ policy engenders a development discourse that is highly exclusionary and produces a restrictive neoliberal conception of the bodies and subjectivities who ‘matter’ for development.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Feminist Political Economy; Gender and Development; World Bank; Gender Equality as Smart Economics
Academic Units: The University of York > Politics (York)
Depositing User: Dr Sydney Calkin
Date Deposited: 07 Jan 2015 13:12
Last Modified: 01 Nov 2016 01:18
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/7529

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