To pay and not to pay: moral regimes of debt economies in Russian towns
Ivan Pavlyutkin (National Research University Higher School of Economics)
Grigory Yudin (National Research University - Higher School of Economics)
Paper short abstract:
In this paper we suggest that debt plays an ambiguous and context-dependent role in reproducing the borderline between private interests and communal virtue.
Paper long abstract:
Recent research in anthropology of debt has shown that debt and credit don't necessarily fall on either side of the "moral/economic" and "virtue/vice" dichotomies (Peebles 2010; Graeber 2011; Gregory 2012). In this paper we suggest that debt plays an ambiguous and context-dependent role in reproducing the borderline between private interests and communal virtue. Drawing upon the data collected in two small towns, Kologriv and Myshkin, we compare various debt institutions in Russia and contrast alternative moral regimes of economic exchange. In a closed community with limited access to external resources (Kologriv) conflicts between entrepreneurs (shopkeepers) and their customers over the moral ambiguity of profit-seeking within community are temporarily solved through debt books. Debts enable vendors and buyers to avoid immediate framing of their relationships as either market exchange (which would lead to debasement of community) or gift exchange (which would make profit-seeking entrepreneurship impossible). Myshkin, on the contrary, is notable for a huge flow of tourists, which makes local entrepreneurs less dependent on local community and unwilling to credit their customers. This results in shifting the boundary between moral economy and self-interest and opens room for invasion of money-lenders and retail chains from the outside. Whereas in Kologriv debt suspends the distinction between the 'moral' and the 'economic' and thus protects members of community from mutual estrangement, in Myshkin it translates 'moral' relationships into 'economic' and thus clears the way for strangers and outsiders.
Virtue in the marketplace