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The socio-economy of debt. Revisiting debt bondage in times of financialization

Abstract : This paper proposes the concept of the ‘socio-economy of debt’ to explore the ambivalence of debt, its multiple facets and its capacity to exploit, protect or emancipate. This socio-economy of debt conceives of debt as a material transaction (defined in terms of prices, modalities of repayment, and collaterals), as well as a power relationship (inseparable from an overall set of interdependencies, protection and social differentiation) and as a social and moral experience (imbued with subjectivities, felt-obligations and also aspirations). This framework sheds a new light on the issue of “debt bondage”, applied to seasonal migrants from South-India. These workers are tied to their employer through a wage advance while enjoying widened access to market debts. Paradoxically, such widened choice has reinforced their dependence on their employers and other forms of interpersonal debt. These various forms of debt, both market and interpersonal, bring about various forms of exploitation, and the dispossession of time and bodies. But these debts equally allow those workers to break with the past and imagine a new future, partially liberated not from caste hierarchies but from their local forms of expression. They offer a source of hope, confidence and courage to act. It also allows some debtors to make investments and improve their lives. Within this analytical framework, it is not the market or non-market-based quality of a debt that explain its emancipatory or alienating potential, as long argued by economic anthropology, but how a particular debt bond is articulated with other forms of interdependence and protection.
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Submitted on : Monday, June 29, 2020 - 6:32:34 AM
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Isabelle Guérin, G. Venkatasubramanian. The socio-economy of debt. Revisiting debt bondage in times of financialization. Geoforum, Elsevier, 2020, ⟨10.1016/j.geoforum.2020.05.020⟩. ⟨hal-02883285⟩



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