Accepted Paper:

Informal support networks as relationships of debt and their relevance for people's wellbeing in rural Kenya  


Silvia Storchi (University of Bath)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores support networks (i.e. “helping each other out”) as relationships of debt and their role for poor people’s wellbeing in rural Kenya.

Paper long abstract:

This research set out to explore the instrumental and intrinsic ways in which financial and economic strategies contribute to people's wellbeing. Among poor people in rural Kenya, networks of support represent one of the main financial and coping strategies in everyday people's lives and also a way to create and nurture social relationships through which people's wellbeing is constituted.

In particular, "helping each other out" seems to be a strong social and moral norm within community dynamics. People feel good when they can help others, while at the same time it is socially appropriate to ask for help. However, such relationships can also be recognised as debt relationships. Indeed, asking for help is often associated with borrowing and, respondents talked about borrowing rather than receiving help, even when refund was not required. This shows that relationships of debt are embedded within relationships of help, even when the person in need knows that refund will not be asked for.

Meanwhile, asking for help is not an individualistic and selfish behaviour. Indeed, people develop as a community and consider personal achievements in a collective perspective. In this way, support networks appear as long-term debts which may never be completely settled. Most importantly, when help is received it indicates mutual recognition and the presence of trust within a certain relationship. These characteristics make these debt relationships to be constitutive of people's wellbeing because they are symbolic of their belonging to a certain community/family, as well as of their social status and self-esteem.

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