Accepted paper:

Indebtedness in South Africa: mediated capitalism

Author:

Deborah James (LSE)

Paper short abstract:

Indebtedness in South Africa occurs in a setting where forces of state and market intertwine to create a redistributive neoliberalism, in which opportunists and intermediaries insert themselves into the cracks and charge interest in the process.

Paper long abstract:

Borrowing possibilities expanded rapidly after South Africa's democratic elections. This credit/debt revolution did not uniformly intensify the character of capitalism in that country, but mediated it: forces of state and market intertwine to create a redistributive neoliberalism, making "money from nothing" means people insert themselves into the cracks and charge interest in the process. In the process of over a century of the country's rapid transition, spaces have continually opened up for opportunists, brokers and intermediaries. In an era when the race-based separation of the population into discrete spatialised territories was proceeding apace, there was extensive reliance by traders and commercial operators on agents who bridged the gap between the white-owned world of increasingly formal business and the rural/township world of economic informality. Often these chameleon-like figures were difficult to classify or pigeonhole since they assumed the features of those employing them (or those to whom they were representing their employers). As time passed, agents started setting up on their own, trying to peddle a range of goods to others from similar backgrounds, and always relying on credit to do so. The paper illuminates this situation; illustrating how difficult it is to separate "bad" from "good" protagonists; "perpetrators" from "victims," or "benefactors" from "beneficiaries." Many who lend money borrow it as well; borrowers are also lenders. Intermediaries have a key role in establishing current credit landscape. If financialisation is to be held to account for the situation, it is also a kind of "financialisation from below".

panel P104
The politics of brokerage: intimate interconnections and spaces of collaboration