Accepted Paper:

Credit standards and the discipline of large scale payment behaviour  


Daniel Seabra Lopes (CSG-ISEG/University of Lisbon)

Paper short abstract:

Based on an ethnographic study of retail credit, this communication intends to discuss the link between consumption, freedom of choice and identity construction, by focusing on the framework of rules and standards that structures the credit business. It will be argued that such a framework is designed to enhance a specific discipline (in the Foucauldian sense) of mass payment behavior.

Paper long abstract:

This communication intends to question the common association between consumption, freedom of choice and identity construction, by showing how consumption practices are in fact framed by very specific rules and standards designed to enhance mass payment behavior. The main empirical example will be that of retail credit, approached from the viewpoint of suppliers. Regardless of how much individualism may be found in average acts of consumption, the work of marketers and other banking professionals reveals that such acts are strongly tied to the generation and management of substantial cash flows stemming from clients' regular payments (such a regularity implying, on its turn, the access to regular sources of income, usually salaried jobs). Hence the critical importance of the Foucauldian concept of 'discipline' allied to contemporary forms of governance involving several forms of population management through statistics and other quantified procedures (cf. Peter Miller, Nikolas Rose). In other words, what emerges is the mass instead of the individual; and self -control instead of freedom. Under such circumstances, even the very role of bankers seems to be quite limited with regards to innovation, as most players in this field are essentially providing the same type of service, in compliance with international norms and regulations. In sum, though money and credit can be thought of as mediators of value enabling citizens to escape the dull routines of work and exert their freedom of choice through consumption, such freedom would not be possible without the voluntary obedience to specific payment schedules.

Panel IW002
Standards and the quest for technocratic certainty