Accepted Paper:

Au revoir, the middle class? The paradoxes of financialization in Greece and Spain  

Authors:

Theodora Vetta (Universitat de Barcelona)
Jaime Palomera (Universitat de Barcelona)

Paper short abstract:

This paper seeks to sketch the political economy behind the penetration of debt among ordinary people in crisis-ridden Spain and Greece, with a particular focus on the class relations that support it.

Paper long abstract:

This paper seeks to sketch the political economy behind the penetration of debt among ordinary people in crisis-ridden Spain and Greece, with a particular focus on the class relations that support it.

Drawing from ethnographic data on small construction firms and struggling households, we investigate the shifting regimes of production and consumption linked to the rise of financialization, as well as the kinds of inequality and exploitation they entail. Debunking the mainstream argument that "people lived beyond their means", our cases suggest that the rise of private debt hinges on the paradoxical interplay between labor precarization and enduring frameworks of mobility predicated on entrepreneurialism. Starting from this premise, the paper will discuss the following hypotheses:

1. In the productive sphere, financialization mechanisms channel profits upwards while concentrating risk downwards.

2. The logics of financial entrepreneurialism are traversed by ambiguous tensions between autonomy and dependency (e.g. proliferation of loans and guarantees, usually linked to extended family networks and properties).

3. The crisis of financialization implies a crisis of the middle class as an ideological project.

While problematizing top-down understandings of financialization, our analysis of the micro-settings of debt aims to be multi-scalar and multidimensional, including: a) the articulations between ordinary people's practices and moral frameworks, b) the transformations in (supra) state regulations, and c) the dynamics of capital accumulation. Steps which seem necessary if we are to explain the making (or unmaking) of finance capitalism.

Panel P083
Debt: a critical reflection based on people's debts