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This panel explores practices, experiences and discourses of micro-entrepreneurship and related forms of development through a focus on aspiration, self-making and articulation of new claims of class and/or ethnic difference.
During the last three decades, micro-entrepreneurship has become a major 'development' activity worldwide. Expansions of government, corporate and NGO programs that seek to effect broader economic and social change through creating individual entrepreneurs with small loans or grants and business advice, have affected society across class and ethnic divides. While ideals behind the emergence of new entrepreneurs through the means of micro-finance reflect neoliberal principles of self-accountability and individual economic 'freedom', micro entrepreneurship programs have in many cases been found to maintain structural dependence of small-scale entrepreneurs on the support of government, NGO or corporate grantees. Despite the discourse of 'self-starting' innovators and individual achievement, micro-financed entrepreneurs are often embedded in dense forms of interrelatedness among local businesses, family, and peers. There seems an enduring tension between the ideals of such 'market insertion' as development strategy and its consequences. Entrepreneurial governance remains a compelling power-knowledge technology, even when it fails to engender the promised transformation of marginalised citizens into independent entrepreneurs. This panel offers an ethnographic approach to practices, experiences and discourses of entrepreneurship, micro-finance and related forms of 'development' through a focus on aspirations and life trajectories among potential and actual micro-entrepreneurs, especially in relation to the articulation of new claims of class and/or ethnic difference. It explores discussions of the programs and their governance as well as critical responses among potential and actual entrepreneurs emerging from experiences of social and economic precarity in and beyond Europe.