When Self-Organization Meets Formalization: An Institutional Analysis of Savings Group in Thailand

  • Pensiri Ariyapruchya

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This study aims to help answer the policy question of how best to formalize savings groups (SGs) in order to enhance their sustainability. While providing important financial services to poor people, SGs are self-organized and can encounter problems of poor management and fraud leading to NGOs and the Government creating interventions that attempt to ‘institutionalize’ good practices and ‘formalize’ them. In Thailand, a range of such interventions are ongoing - achieving varying success - while little is known about how SGs actually respond to these attempts to formalize them.
This study therefore investigates how the three most significant attempts to formalize SGs in Thailand have taken place: interventions led by Buddhist monks; a public bank and
a government department. We ask what rules that the interventions promoted got adopted, and why and how this happened. To explore the role of local institutions and the dynamics of the institutionalization process, the study uses the two theoretical frameworks from institutional theory of institutional logic and institutional bricolage. In-depth qualitative research into eight case study groups was conducted and thematic analysis used to analyse the data.
The findings of the thesis show, first, that the three interventions were frequently attempting to institutionalize the same SGs using different methods. Second, it shows that the SGs themselves are remarkably diverse in their operations revolving around their unique ways of balancing institutional logics which are community-oriented and business-oriented. In the face of the complex intervention environment, the study shows that SGs are not passive recipients of interventions; rather they engage in bricolage processes as they reinterpret, modify, and negotiate rules, and their response can be much subtler than policymakers might expect. Combining the analysis of institutional logics with that of bricolage processes, the study shows how understanding of the group’s motives - drawn from their logic and underlying identity – enriches understanding of their bricolage strategies.
The findings of this research indicate the need for policymakers to balance top-down policymaking focussing on regulation with greater recognition of local institutions and social and cultural contexts. The thesis argues that the promotion of multi-track and multi-tiered regulation and intervention can help preserve SG diversity and enable increased complementarity among different SG interventions. Such an approach offers a more sustainable approach to working with SGs which recognises their own agency in setting their own goals and finding ways to achieve them. 
Date of Award28 Aug 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorJames Copestake (Supervisor) & Mathilde Maitrot (Supervisor)

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