Vulnerable due to hope: aspiration paradox as a cross-cultural concern

Conference Publication, International Development Ethics Association 10th Conference: Development Ethics Contributions for a Socially Sustainable Future (2014)
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(Conference proceedings 2014) This presentation (International Development Ethics Association, July 2014) considers economic vulnerability, exploring the risk of deprivation of necessary resources due to a complex and rarely discussed vulnerability that arises from hope. Pierre Bourdieu’s sociological account of French petit-bourgeois aspiration in The Social Structures of the Economy has recently inspired Wendy Olsen to introduce the term “aspiration paradox” to characterize cases wherein “a borrower's status aspirations may contribute to a situation in which their borrowings exceed their capacity to repay,” leaving the individual much the worse, due to an aspiration to betterment. If such financial opportunities were not made available to these people – if some were denied loans due to a careful assessment of their vulnerability – would they be better off? We should seriously consider that they might be. I will hazard the straightforwardly paternalistic suggestion that limiting access to lending to those who are vulnerable to their aspirations can be a just policy. Because aspiration paradox is a cross-cultural phenomenon, and because lending frequently involves asymmetries in mathematical education between borrowers and lenders, I hope to elude at least some of the charges of colonialism that have gained a stronger purchase on adaptive preference arguments.
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