3520 Prospect Street, Suite 209, Washington DC 20057
Becky Yang Hsu is Associate Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University. She is affiliated with Asian Studies, the Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues, and the Graduate School's new program on Health and the Public Interest.
Dr. Hsu specializes in culture and sociology of religion, with an interest in moral deliberation and personhood. She is currently completing a book on how people define happiness in China (to be published by the University of Chicago Press). She was Project Leader (PI) of a John Templeton Foundation funded project, "The Concept of Fu in Contemporary China: Searching for Well-Being, Purpose, and the Good Life" (2013-2016). She is author of Borrowing Together: Microfinance and Cultivating Social Ties (Cambridge University Press, 2017), which details how participants in microfinance programs in rural China use the loans to cultivate their social networks. Dr. Hsu explains why microfinance's 'articles of faith' failed to comprehend the influence of longstanding relationships and the component of morality. Her other works include articles in the British Journal of Sociology and the Journal of Health Psychology. She holds a B.A. from Yale University as well as an M.A. and Ph.D. from Princeton University.
This book takes a postcolonial perspective on a classic sociological question: how do culture and economy interact? It introduces a new theory of personhood as the basis of accepted knowledge. The book explains microfinance (a type of program where lenders aim to address global poverty by providing small loans for the purpose of profit-making) as an outgrowth of culture -- specifically, concepts of personhood. Particular assumptions about reality form the backdrop of microfinance theory and the design decisions upon which it is based. The book challenges influential domains of social science, aiming for a kind of truly global sociology as it explains how culturally specific notions about personhood are the basis of global development policy.
The book draws upon ethnographic fieldwork taking place over three years, which included conducting 136 interviews in Mandarin Chinese. By examining the lived realities of the borrowers, the book explains why microfinance's "articles of faith" -- as articulated by economists like Joseph Stiglitz and contained in the program stipulations -- failed to comprehend the field site, where there was the influence of longstanding relationships and the component of morality. The book investigates the details of the social and hierarchical relationships between influential villagers, ordinary villagers, and officials, finding that these relationships are the key that explains the outcomes in rural China. People access money through their social networks, but they also do the opposite: cultivate their social relationships by moving money.
"Borrowing Together offers a completely new look at the often overly-idealized world of microfinance. Becky Yang Hsu has done a marvelous job of unearthing the cultural, religious, and interpersonal relationships that shape the effectiveness and ineffectiveness of microfinance programs. Thoroughly researched among micro finance participants in rural China, elegantly written, and passionately argued, this is a major contribution to the literature in several fields, especially economic sociology and the sociology of culture."
ROBERT WUTHNOW, Gerhard R. Andlinger '52 Professor of Social Sciences at Princeton University, and author of Inventing American Religion: Polls, Surveys, and the Tenuous Quest for a Nation's Faith
"Borrowing Together is the most important book ever written on microfinance. Hsu brilliantly unravels the disconnect between lending institutions who believe they are investing in self-regenerating entrepreneurs with the lived realities of borrowers who often take loans in order to pay for education and healthcare. This rich ethnography examines multiple stakeholders in the borrowing and lending process as Hsu challenges her readers to pay attention to the social and hierarchical relationships (and sanctions) between influential villagers, ordinary villagers, and township officials in China. This is the most authoritative book on microfinance and a must read for anyone interested in global poverty, development, and moral selfhood."
KIMBERLY KAY HOANG, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago, and author of Dealing in Desire: Asian Ascendancy, Western Decline, and the Hidden Currencies of Global Sex Work
"Borrowing Together is an important cautionary tale about the failure of models. In elegant prose, Hsu traces the failure of economic assumptions about microlending and of the accounts of personhood that go with them, as these traverse cultural landscapes. In doing so, she develops an economic, a moral and a cultural account of microcredit. Set in China—important in its own right—the lessons Hsu draws, as well as the pragmatist sensibility she develops, will prove important for anyone studying what happens when the economically-modeled rubber hits the road."
IDDO TAVORY, Associate Professor of Sociology at New York University, and author of Summoned: Identification and Religious Life in a Jewish Neighborhood
"Hsu's new book Borrowing Together is an exciting addition to the growing critical literature on microfinance. The book introduces the reader to the lives of Chinese villagers and their moral worldview of guanxi or of building social relations toward a good life. Culture or the "peskiness of life" is at the heart of this study. Hsu begins by asking what did people do with their lives. What moral choices did they make on an everyday basis? She shows how micro finance loans intersected with the moral code of Chinese villagers leading to a set of unique observations. Microfinance loans in the Chinese context became a part of guanxi, a tool with which to cement sociality and build the good life, and villagers made calculated choices toward this end. Loans were repaid "if they strengthened social relationships" or helped to increase one's good life, and force on loan recovery was avoided if it led to the loss of guanxi. This is a novel study of how loans circulated in culture tying people and their worldview in innovative ways. This book will be invaluable to students of anthropology, sociology of religion, development and Asian studies."
LAMIA KARIM, Associate Professor and Associate Head of Anthropology at the University of Oregon, and author of Microfinance and Its Discontents: Women in Debt in Bangladesh
Becky was recently Project Leader (PI) of a research endeavor investigating how people define happiness in China today. Happiness indexes and surveys are increasingly adopted as a measure of good governance around the world. And yet, definitions of happiness vary.
"The Concept of Fu in Contemporary China: Searching for Well-Being, Purpose, and the Good Life in an Age of Anxiety"
The Chinese concept of fu is frequently translated "happiness." But like the Greek eudaimonia, fu connotes more than hedonistic satisfaction; it is the well-being associated with achieving a "good" life-one of virtue, honor, and purpose. What constitutes this goodness, however, is not a static understanding. Over the past thirty years, the Chinese government has replaced its Maoist blueprint with a new hybrid of market-socialism. The country has become wealthy, and most citizens enjoy modest levels of material security. Above certain levels, however, this additional wealth is not equating with increased happiness.
Rapid societal change and unreconciled modern values serve to moderate otherwise expected increases in happiness, particularly when confounded by powerful economic and geopolitical interests. In response, many Chinese anxiously search among multiple moral strands to discover how to live a purposeful and virtuous life. For all their good intentions and eager funding, surveys on happiness have tended to measure more mood than fu. This results in generally policy-moot findings that cannot address the problem of cultural variation in our understanding of what makes a life a good one.
We will draw on in-depth interviews and participant observation in three metropolitan areas, as well as published texts, in order to capture the more robust, animating, and foundational aspects of happiness. Since when people evaluate their lives, they do so in relation to orienting categories, our study centralizes moral understandings in the comprehension of happiness. Concrete outputs include a book, an edited scholarly volume, journal articles, media outreach, and new survey designs to change dominant social-science research paradigms for happiness. The research will lead to improved surveys on happiness worldwide, advanced policy understanding for the common good of all, and the promotion of mutual understanding between the United States and China.
2017. Hsu, Becky, Yulia Chentsova Dutton, Inez Adams, Scarlett Gomez, Laura Allen, Ellen Huang, and Judy Huei-yu Wang. "Talking about Cancer: Explaining Differences in Social Support among Chinese American and European American White Breast Cancer Survivors." Journal of Health Psychology. Prepublished Dec 15, 2017, DOI: 10.1177/1359105317745967.
2017. Hsu, Becky, Weiwei Zhang, and Christine Kim. "Surveying Happiness in China: Comparing Measures of Subjective Well-Being." The Journal of Chinese Sociology 4:14.
2016. Hsu, Becky. "The "Impossible" Default: Qualitative Data on Borrower Responses to Two Types of Social-Collateral Microfinance Structures in Rural China." Journal of Development Studies 52(1): 147-59.
*2014. Hsu, Becky. "Alleviating Poverty or Reinforcing Inequality? Interpreting Microfinance in Practice, with Illustrations from Rural China." British Journal of Sociology 65(2): 245-265.
*Faculty Article Award, Sociology of Development Section, American Sociological Association, honorable mention
2014. Hsu, Becky, Conrad Hackett, and Leslie Hinkson. "The Importance of Race and Religion in Social-Service Providers." Social Science Quarterly 95(2): 393-410.
2014. Hsu, Becky. "How Not to Punish Your Neighbour: Microfinance and Second-Order Free Riding in Rural China." International Journal of Development Issues 13(2): 113-128.
2011. Grim, Brian and Becky Hsu. "Estimating the Global Muslim Population: Size and Distribution of the World's Muslim Population." Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion 7(2).
2008. Hsu, Becky, Amy Reynolds, Conrad Hackett, and James Gibbon. "Estimating the Religious Composition of All Nations: An Empirical Assessment of the World Christian Database." Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 47(4):678-693.
**2004. Wuthnow, Robert, Conrad Hackett, and Becky Hsu. "Effectiveness and Trustworthiness of Faith-Based and Other Service Organizations: A Study of Recipients' Perceptions." Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 43:1-17.
**Distinguished Article Award, Sociology of Religion Section, American Sociological Association
Mar 2018: On The Annex podcast, Becky talks about Borrowing Together with sociologists Joseph Cohen (CUNY Queens College), Leslie Hinkson (Georgetown University), and Gabriel Rossman (UCLA).
Jan 2018: At the UCLA Center for Chinese Studies-UCLA International Institute, Becky will take up the question of how people in China today define happiness.
Oct 2017: At the Pew Research Center's conference on Survey Research and the Study of Religion in East Asia , Becky presented on "Social contact variables and religious activity: Blessed Happiness Survey 2016."
Oct 2017: At the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion annual meetings in Washington, DC, Becky will participate in an Author-Meets-Critic session for her book, Borrowing Together. She will also participate in the "Religion, Global Poverty, and International Development" panel and present a paper entitled, "Can Comparing What a Person is Imagined to Be Enhance the Study of Religion? A Typology of Personhood."
Aug 2017: At the American Sociological Association annual meetings in Montreal, Becky will present a paper in an invited thematic session, "Happiness and Inequality."
Mar 2016: "The Good Life: Defining Happiness in China" in Georgetown College News .
Feb 2016: The Washington Post covered Becky's research in "What people around the world mean when they say they're happy."
Jan 2016: Becky presented "The Good Death: Present-Day Rituals, Blessed Happiness, and Family Lineage" at a symposium, "Blessed Happiness (Fu): Visions of a Good Life in Urban China," highlighting findings from a three-year long project.
Aug 2015: At the American Sociological Association annual meetings in San Francisco, Becky received an honorable mention for the Faculty Article Award of the Sociology of Development Section for her article, "Alleviating Poverty or Reinforcing Inequality? Interpreting Microfinance in Practice, with Illustrations from Rural China," published in the British Journal of Sociology.
Mar 2013: "What is Happiness?" in Georgetown College News.
Feb 6, 2013: With a member of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music and students from my Global Inequalities and Social Justice class (Neesha Tambe, Jescinta Izevbigie, and Citlalli Alvarez) and son Zachary (6 months old) after concert at the World Bank.