Society for Economic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
During the last decade, the Argentinian working class has increasingly been exposed to new forms of consumer credit. A series of ethnographies carried out in one of the main city’s industrial hub (Rosario) underlines that this gave rise to a new form of exploitation, based on the temporal mismatch between the (monthly-based) time of debt repayments, and the more erratic time of labour. Informal workers are particularly exposed to this process, due to their instable income flows, and the weakness of their social protections. Surprisingly, they consider consumer credit both as a form of alienation and exploitation and as a form of social recognition: thanks to consumer credit, they say that they are “part of the system”, for the first time of their lives. I argue that in order to understand this ambivalent feeling, it is necessary to put ethnographies in a wider time-perspective, in order to conceive the recent boom of consumer credit as the culmination of a series of processes that reshaped Rosario’s working class in a complex way. These processes include the deindustrialization that threatened the region during the 1990s and the subsequent closing of stable workers’ financial mutuals, and the left-oriented governmental policies implemented between 2003 and 2015, characterized by increasing employment formalization, and by the extension social rights to people without stable employment. Taken together, theses processes tore down the barriers that prevailed between the white established proletariat and the (mostly) mestizo urban subproletariat, and paved the way to the boom of consumer credit.