The Gender Effect: Capitalism, Feminism, and the Corporate Politics of Development

The Gender Effect: Capitalism, Feminism, and the Corporate Politics of Development

by Kathryn Moeller

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How and why are U.S. transnational corporations investing in the lives, educations, and futures of poor, racialized girls and women in the Global South? Is it a solution to ending poverty? Or is it a pursuit of economic growth and corporate profit? Drawing on more than a decade of research in the United States and Brazil, this book focuses on how the philanthropic, social responsibility, and business practices of various corporations use a logic of development that positions girls and women as instruments of poverty alleviation and new frontiers for capitalist accumulation. Using the Girl Effect, the philanthropic brand of Nike,
Inc., as a central case study, the book examines how these corporations seek to address the problems of gendered poverty and inequality, yet do so using an instrumental logic that shifts the burden of development onto girls and women without transforming the structural conditions that produce poverty. These practices, in turn, enable corporations to expand their legitimacy, authority, and reach while sidestepping contradictions in their business practices that often exacerbate conditions of vulnerability for girls and women. With a keen eye towards justice, author Kathryn Moeller concludes that these corporatized development practices de-politicize girls’ and women’s demands for fair labor practices and a just global economy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520286399
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 02/16/2018
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 1,034,916
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Kathryn Moeller is Assistant Professor of Educational Policy Studies and an affiliate of the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

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The Girl Effect as Apparatus

To understand the phenomenon of corporate investment in girls and women, I employ the theoretical-methodological conception that the Girl Effect is a global apparatus of power. As articulated by Foucault, a dispositif or apparatus is constituted through a set of discursive "power/knowledge" practices that both define and come into being through it. Employing this conceptualization, I move beyond studying discrete institutions, their policies, and their intended effects on social practice, as commonly practiced in research on whether development interventions are successful or not. Rather, I analyze the non-fixed, heterogeneous ensemble of discursive practices, including scientific statements, laws, policies, representations, material products, and institutions, focused on girls as an object of development. In this way, this study is not about girls per se; rather, the Girl Effect is the ethnographic object.

The apparatus that I studied defines adolescent girls as objects of knowledge, or, more specifically, as a population category that is ultimately distinct from girls, women, and youth. But the apparatus is also defined by the category of adolescent girls, without which the formation would not exist. It depends on and is structured by the field of knowledge around the category and thus shapes how the population is understood. This authoritative knowledge corresponds to and is a result of the creation of a complex set of technologies for producing knowledge that defines and attempts to regulate (although largely unsuccessfully) adolescent girls' bodies, lives, and futures through educational practice. These technologies include, for example, monitoring and evaluation (M&E) programs to assess the success of the programs in unleashing the Girl Effect by gathering data on girls' educational attainment, employment, financial status, consumer habits, and sexual practices, among other indicators. Another set of technologies included counting, tracking, and mapping girls globally through the Nike Foundation's Girls Discovered project with Verisk Maplecroft. The project "aimed to provide development professionals and researchers with a consolidated source for existing, publically available data in a visual format," according to personal communication with Nike Foundation. The maps are among the resources Verisk Maplecroft highlights, along with a Human Rights and Business Dilemmas website it developed, to "help multinational corporations identify and address child labour risks and responsibilities in their operations and supply chains." These resources make apparent how new technologies come together with old forms of social control to regulate bodies and moderate risk for corporations in today's geographies of global capitalism.

As Michael Goldman describes, these forms of power/knowledge practices function in an "exercise of power through social bodies rather than merely against them." Power, in this sense, is indeed productive. It operates through the girls who participate in educational, health, and economic programs, the educators and NGO staff members that run them, and the development experts that monitor and evaluate them. Moreover, it functions through the corporate executives and foundation program managers that develop programs in girls' names and the public relations and marketing specialists that brand girls' potential.

While corporate development programs and policies predicated on this logic ultimately fail to end poverty through their investments in adolescent girls, they produce what James Ferguson identifies, building on Michel Foucault, as powerful "instrument effects" of "failed" development projects. In the case of the Girl Effect, the particular effects include distinguishing a population category of development, producing authoritative knowledge on it, and positioning it as an object of intervention and exhibition. The broader effect is the expansion of corporate power and influence within the development regime through these particular bodies.

During my full-time, ethnographic fieldwork (2008–2010), I examined one particular constellation of Nike, Inc. and Nike Foundation's apparatus in and between the United States and Brazil in this particular historical conjuncture. The theoretical conceptualization of the research builds on critical, multisided ethnographic analyses of corporations and corporate foundations, as well as powerful development institutions, from within anthropology, education, sociology, and geography that pursue the complex task of studying up. Drawing on anthropological conceptions of corporations, I conceptualize the corporate form not as a singular or monolithic entity, but rather as complex cultural formations or "social groupings" that are constituted through, and vie for influence over, cultural beliefs, values, narratives, rituals, resources, and practices in the systematic pursuit of profit. How these are controlled, by whom, and for whom, are culturally, legally, economically, and politically contested questions that anthropologists seek to understand. This project understands the corporation as a "temporally, spatially, and socially differentiated" institution comprised of unequally distributed power and multiple competing interests and sources of agency, organized around the dominant goal of profit maximization. It conceives of the corporate foundation to be a distinct, yet financially, politically, and legally associated entity whose beliefs, values, narratives, and practices can align with, support, and/or compete with those of the corporation. The project contributes to debates on where the boundaries of the corporation begin and end, and, correspondingly, to where and whom their responsibilities extend. It does so by examining how girls, educators, feminists, and NGOs become part of the corporate domain, and by considering how ordinary, noncorporate actors in these spaces "enact" — consciously or unconsciously — the socially responsible corporation as they participate in corporatized development programs.

To understand this, the multi-scalar research design focused on Nike, Inc. and Nike Foundation's transnational relationships with four types of development institutions, including two international NGOs in Brazil, the World Bank in Washington, DC, CGI in New York City, and entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in Silicon Valley. I call one NGO, Alliance for Development (AFD). It is the Brazilian affiliate of a Washington, DC–based organization, whose program I call Programa pelo empoderamento das jovens mulheres (PEJM), translated as the Program to Empower Young Women, which was funded by the Nike Foundation. The other NGO, which I call the Gender Justice Organization (GJO), is a Brazil-based, international organization. Nike Foundation funded the integration of young women into GJO's work on gender equity with young men. The World Bank is a multilateral development bank whose composition stretches across the world with offices in the majority of countries. Between 2008 and 2015, the Bank partnered with the Nike Foundation on the Adolescent Girl Initiative (AGI) in the first programmatic partnership between the World Bank and a corporate foundation. CGI was founded and led by former US president Bill Clinton. Between 2005 and 2016, it held an annual meeting every September to convene its corporate members with governments, bilateral and multilateral agencies, private foundations, and NGOs around development issues. Former President Clinton and its corporate membership base actively promoted investing in girls and women as a solution for ending poverty and stimulating economic growth. It was critical in constructing a global corporate agenda around girls and women. Nike Foundation played a prominent role in this process. The final set of institutional actors included in the study were entrepreneurs focused on targeting girls in their start-ups in India and on the African continent and venture capitalists from Silicon Valley interested in funding them. Lastly, in addition to this primary constellation of institutional actors, I also engaged with countless other grantees, consultants, and partners of the Nike Foundation during interviews, conferences, and other forums over the years.

Each location functioned as a "fieldwork node," representing a place within the apparatus of the Girl Effect in which I conducted interviews and/or participant observation. In contrast to traditional conceptions of sites as bounded localities, these nodes were unbounded. They operated as "sites of encounter." They were constituted through interconnected, yet unequal, exchanges and relationships between diverse subjects in disparate locations, many of whom will never have direct contact with one another. Often their only indirect contact with one another came through me as the researcher.

If, as Ananya Roy suggests, "ethnographies are spatialized interventions in fields of power," this study is an intervention in the multiple fields of power that comprise the Girl Effect. These fields comprise the shifting terrain of feminism, corporate capitalism, and international development as a field of policy and practice. As the fields are global in reach and multi-scalar, my theoretical interventions were developed on multiple scales and across different sites. They were developed through analytical concepts that enable us to read this field of power more closely and understand the relationships between the seemingly disparate sites in the study. In other words, the findings illuminate the global even as they were theorized through my participation in situated social relations in particular ethnographic locations and moments in time.

By carefully examining the articulations of social and economic relations, symbolic meanings, and spatial interconnections in a particular constellation of Nike, Inc.'s investments in the Girl Effect through the Nike Foundation, my analysis elucidates the broader investment logic and the relations and processes that constitute the investments using Gillian Hart's methodology of "relational comparison." I demonstrate how these investments are created, negotiated, and experienced by diverse subjects operating in distinct yet interconnected institutions. These encounters always occur through situated practice — physical or virtual. Encounters in the Girl Effect occur through ongoing, complex interconnections within, across, and between far reaching locales and among unequally resourced social actors who are frequently unfamiliar and, I will posit, ultimately unknowable to one another. Their interconnections occur through uneven exchanges of money, knowledge, representations, stories, expectations, and desires. Yet, in a world perceived as interconnected, practices in the Girl Effect occur as much through disjunctures created through difference as they do through interconnections across difference.

The ethnographic research focused on this particular constellation of institutional actors is not meant to be exhaustive of all of the Nike Foundation's work across multiple countries and with multiple partners over the course of a decade. I also do not expect that the experiences of Nike, Inc., the Nike Foundation, and their institutional partners in any specific geography will be exactly replicated by another set of actors focused on the Girl Effect or by other corporations or corporate foundations investing in girls and women. This book places the ethnographic observations focused on the Girl Effect in specific moments in time and geographies within a larger context of discourse and practice in order to understand the broader world of corporatized development focused on poor girls and women in the Global South. It demonstrates how US transnational corporations and the international institutions supporting them, such as the World Bank and CGI, are developing and implementing policies and practices based on a racialized, gendered, sexualized, and classed instrumental logic of development. It explains how this logic influences the ways poor girls and women in the Global South are understood, how educational interventions are structured in their name, and how this influences their lives and educations. Moreover, it illuminates how these practices extend corporate power and influence over new bodies, institutions, and geographies, and how this occurs without accountability to the girls and women they are supposedly serving and without addressing the contradictions in their corporate business practices, as the case of Nike, Inc.'s ongoing labor problems demonstrate.


The question of the researcher as subject in and of the apparatus is relevant to theoretical-methodological conceptions of this research. It relates to Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson's attempt at "decentering 'the field' as the one, privileged site of anthropological knowledge." As they explain, this conceptualization reconstructs the field via Donna Haraway's notion of "situated knowledges." This form of "feminist objectivity" is based on partiality rather than universality. It questions unhistoricized, disembodied claims to authoritative knowledge based on science. These forms of science, including anthropology and Western feminism's claims to truth, have historically and continually created multiple Others. In contrast, feminist objectivity requires a view from the researching body as "always a complex, contradictory, structuring, and structured body."

In this way, I always was, and continue to be, embedded in the power relations that comprise this phenomenon. Following Gayatri Spivak and Sneja Gunew's proposition of "a historical critique of your position as the investigating person," this book is therefore also a story of my own personal history. I am the granddaughter and daughter of both corporate America and liberal feminism. My grandfather and father were executives of banks and corporations. My grandfather, in fact, worked for General Electric, one of the corporations in this broader phenomenon. I therefore grew up in a corporate family, acquiring the cultural habits it produces, the economic access it affords, and the ways of being it enables. These are inevitably marked on my body and its movements in and through the world. Yet, in contrast to my grandmothers and mother, I was given educational and professional opportunities that they were not granted or encouraged to pursue. Between my generation and theirs, feminism — in its white, liberal expression — enabled me to have other educational and professional options, although it was certainly never explained in that manner.

The peculiar intersection of corporate America and liberal feminism that I study not only runs through figures of racialized girls and women in the Global South, as outsourced laborers or recipients of corporate philanthropy, but through my own body and bodies like mine, albeit in radically different ways. The figure of the white, middle- to upper-class, highly educated American woman — both myself and many participants in my study — is positioned on the other side of the transnational division of labor and corporate philanthropic benevolence; yet, she, too, is positioned at its intersection. Thus, the figure of women like me in my study is the largely unacknowledged beneficiary of corporate America and liberal feminism. As an ethnographer, I was thus intimately part of the discourses that I studied. Disentangling me from the apparatus and my findings is impossible. I was socially, politically, and historically positioned within this field, myself produced in and through it in different ways, and, in turn, producing knowledge in and through my particular location.

As I entered into relationships in the deeply hierarchical institutions in my study, I found myself situated in radically uneven power dynamics within, between, and across the nodes. In particular institutions in the United States, I often shared a highly privileged positionality with my research participants, or as a result of age or professional status, they were in more powerful positions than I was. Nevertheless, it was my own relative positionality vis-à-vis theirs that enabled these relationships to develop. In contrast, at the Brazilian offices and programs of the transnational NGOs where I conducted participant observation for almost a year, the relationships were defined by unevenness. While the NGOs themselves were defined by hierarchical relations of power, particularly as their structures extended far beyond Brazil, I always occupied a privileged position, as my point of entrance into the institutions was through the most senior employees in their Brazilian locations. In each institution, this influenced my positionality throughout the duration of my fieldwork. While the young women in the program were never the objects of my research, the power differentials between us in the NGO classrooms or in their public schools where I conducted observations were certainly the most extreme. From the beginning, however, I sought to make it very clear that they were not the focus of my research and to establish relationships of solidarity with them inside and outside the classroom to the extent that this was ever possible.


Excerpted from "The Gender Effect"
by .
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Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations

Introduction: Corporatized Development
1. The Girl Effect as Apparatus
2. The Historical Rise of the Girl Effect
3. The Spectacle of Empowering Girls and Women
4. Searching for Third World Potential
5. Proving the Girl Effect
6. Negotiating Corporatized Development

Conclusion: Accelerating and Freeing the Girl Effect
Sources to Timeline of Nike,
Inc. and Nike Foundation History and Public Response


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