Society for Economic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: Household debt is a thriving field of research. Yet unlike Maussian social debt, international comparative dimensions of household-level debts of money are under-researched. This panel builds on recent calls to decolonise the study of debt (Bourne, Gilbert, Haiven & Montgomerie 2018) through comparative analyses that counter ethnocentric studies of finance by taking into account imperial, racial, gender, and class realities that affect household debt. We ask: What would a fully anthropological approach to household debt look like that incorporates the plurality of ways in which debt is experienced and practised between settings?
We explore the distinctive features of household/personal debt by asking how experiences of borrowing, repaying, collecting and defaulting interlink with broader (legal, political, economic, social and cultural) structures and scales, and longer historical trajectories. We are particularly interested on four broad topics:
1) What counts as debt - how vernacular definitions of what counts as “debt” link with social formations, kinship modes, ways of householding, social hierarchies and inequalities, legal systems and political-economic histories? How do these definitions vary between settings? Do meanings of “debt” exhibit radical alterity or universal consistency?
2) Direct links between household and debt - what roles do household/ personal/consumer debts play in making, or unmaking, “the household”, “the person” or “the consumer” and what social relations and subjectivities are sidelined in the process? What are the socio-cultural specificities of indebted homes and households? What configurations of household, labour and livelihood accompany widespread debt? How does household debt resonate with wider socio-political dynamics – for instance, gendered, racial and nationalist resonances of creditors targeting the household and debtors defending it?
3) Geography and scale of debt – How do experiences of household debt differ depending on their location within transnational networks of accumulation? Conversely, how can credit/debt’s propensity to produce or collapse spatial distance (Harker 2017) complicate notions of core and periphery? How is household debt involved in producing scale itself?
4) Provincialising Anglo-America – What light does a comparative perspective shed on Anglo-American-centric narratives of the expansion of credit, financial de/regulation and governance, welfare, debt collection and enforcement, livelihood, and debt-based collectivisation? How do narratives of “global” processes of financialisation diverge between region, and how do they affect individuals at a local level?