Accepted Papers:

Life and debt in South Africa  


Deborah James (LSE)

Paper Short Abstract:

In the global south, and South Africa in particular, debt factors into other relationships and meanings in the life of the family. But accounts which imply a top-down intrusion by the market are too stark. The paper explores the factors which encourage participant complicity.

Paper long abstract:

This paper seeks to explore how, in the South African context where sharp rises in indebtedness have accompanied the rapid financialization of the economy over the past two decades, debt factors into other socially important relationships and meanings in the everyday life of the family and household. How are different obligations and imperatives balanced against, or converted into, one another? How might they cancel one another out? How do people either convert between cash-based or short term imperatives and moral or longer-term ones, or erect barriers between these separate spheres thus making them incommensurable (Parry and Bloch 1989)? The paper challenges the overly deterministic assumption that these sets of relationships, and the conversions between them, embody a monolithic framework, imposed from above by financial institutions (with state backing) which intrudes into peopleÆs intimate relations, commitments and aspirations (see Han 2012). By exploring some accounts of householding (Gregory 2009, Guyer 1981, Polanyi 1944), it shows how we need to explore the complicity of participantsÆ engagement with the financialisation of daily life (Langley 2008; Martin 2002) rather than seeing it as imposed on unwilling victims.

Panel Plenary B
Contemporary capitalism and unequal society: obscene exchange, complicity and grassroots responses