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date: 06 May 2021

Overindebtedness and Resistancefree

  • Irene Sabaté MurielIrene Sabaté MurielUniversitat de Barcelona

Summary

During the first two decades of the 21st century, a wide anthropological literature has tackled the social nature of debt and credit under contemporary capitalism, with its increasing centrality linked to financialization processes that involve the commodification of different kinds of debt. Indebtedness appears in different modalities and reaches different scales: that of individuals or households (consumption credit, mortgages), that of entrepreneurs and firms (microcredits, corporate debt), and that of national economies and public administrations (sovereign debt).

In some cases, indebtedness evolves into overindebtedness as borrowers experience persistent difficulties in keeping up with loan repayments, due to a variety of factors, including poor financial decisions, lack of transparency or fraud on the creditors’ side, insufficient consumer protection, structural factors that incentivize recklessness on both the borrowers’ and the lenders’ part, and so on. For critical scholars, acts of borrowing should not be seen as the result of rational choice, but as a behavior naturalized by a neoliberal regime of accumulation where credit plays a central role, and where indebtedness is a precondition for social reproduction, especially among the poor. Although operational definitions of the notion of overindebtedness tend to focus on objective indicators and normative statements, a number of authors advocate for the exploration of its subjective dimension: when is debt experienced as a burden?

Overindebtedness, on the one hand, has an impact on material living conditions, as it leads to economic precariousness, impoverishment, and dispossession. On the other hand, it also has political effects: if power relations between creditors and debtors are taken into account, it entails the disciplining and disempowerment of borrowers, who are forced to adopt a neoliberal ethos.

In the face of excessive indebtedness, in cases where debts are unpayable and/or are perceived as illegitimate, debtors may react in a variety of ways, giving way to different forms of resistance, including the refusal to repay. The latter usually entails certain consequences, on moral terms—as defaulters are not fulfilling the obligation to repay—and/or in the form of debt enforcement. The politics of such resistances are to be understood as manifestations of opposition against a “debt economy” in which the most basic functions of household and national economies are only attainable through indebtedness. Occurrences of resistance to overindebtedness with explicitly political aims include debt audits, debt cancellation campaigns, different forms of collective disobedience, calls for changes in legislative frameworks, and experimentation with alternative credit-lending institutions.

However, there are few cases where borrowers refuse to repay their debt for a conscious, politically motivated reason. In many other situations, their intentionality is not an emancipation from debt, but the attainment of more sustainable conditions for repayment, for instance, negotiating debt restructuration, prioritizing certain financial obligations over others, and so on.

Apart from analyzing, comparing, and classifying existing resistances, both before and after the 2008 financial crisis as an important historical milestone, the scholarly literature on the topic also explores the possible conditions necessary for future resistances and a potential society free from financial speculation and exploitative debts.

Introduction: The Sociality of Debt

In both the tradition of classical economic anthropology and in early-21st-century interdisciplinary literature, a concern for the “sociality” of debt, as a critique and an amendment to mainstream economistic approaches, has led to vibrant, productive theoretical discussions. The embeddedness of lending and borrowing practices, in particular social bonds and power relations, as well as the moral and affective factors at play in their production and reproduction, has been the object of much reflection, and attracted renewed interest in the second decade of the 21st century (Peebles 2010; Gregory 2012; Guyer 2012; James 2014; Deville 2015; Han 2012). For Vaccaro, Hirsch, and Sabaté (2019), the great complexity of debt and credit relations, and the variety of meanings and social institutions involved in their shaping and regulation, allows scholars to consider debt as a total social fact, very much like Mauss’s notion of the gift (1979).

During the second decade of the 21st century, a vast literature has depicted debt as playing a central role under contemporary financial capitalism (Lazzarato 2012, 2014; Graeber 2011; Ross 2014a), in close relationship with financialization processes entailing the commodification of debts through securitization mechanisms (Marazzi 2011; Lapavitsas 2009; Aalbers 2008; Van der Zwan 2014; Martin 2002; Rolnik 2013; López and Rodríguez 2011), and very much under the auspices of states that are embracing neoliberal reforms (Soederberg 2014).

Of course, the features and implications of debt and indebtedness vary greatly among its different modalities, depending on who the creditors and debtors are in each case, what the borrowed capital is intended for (Caffentzis 2016), as well as on the scale of the phenomenon (Montgomerie and Tepe-Belfrage 2019). Authors have described, for instance, the particularities of individual and household indebtedness, caused by personal loans and credit cards (Marambio 2018; Mújika, Gibaja, and García 2009; Trumbull 2012; Davey 2019); the access to homeownership through mortgages (Sabaté 2018; García Lamarca and Kaika 2016; Suárez 2017; Stout 2019; Jefferson 2013; Martin and Niedt 2015), including the subprime sector of the market (Reid 2010); health debt and student loans (Larson 2014; Figart 2017); the so-called fringe finance constituting payday loans and other products specifically devised for the “financial inclusion” of those previously excluded from institutional credit lending (Wilkis 2015); as well as the more informal, sometimes traditional mechanisms of moneylending at play in many societies, from store owners selling on credit in rural Mexico (Villarreal 2008) to “loan sharks” operating in South Africa (James 2014). Other researchers have focused on debt incurred for productive purposes, as in corporate debt and, importantly, in microfinance, as a particular, strongly criticized trend in the field of development policies and poverty alleviation (Roy 2010; Guérin 2014; Schuster 2014; Bateman, Blankenburg, and Kozul-Wright 2019). Finally, there is another body of literature that focuses on sovereign debt as well as on public debt at other levels of administration, like municipalities (Larson 2013). These studies often explore the relationship between public debt and the design, implementation, and justification of structural adjustment policies and austerity measures involving cuts in public budgets and services, with a retrenchment of welfare states wherever these had taken root during the precedent decades (Lazzarato 2012, 2014; Bear 2015; Cutillas 2014).

Beyond all this empirical diversity, common mechanisms can be traced that connect high levels of indebtedness, whenever it is experienced as a burden and as a source of financial distress, and the emergence of resistance and contestation, be they on an individual or on a collective basis. As a review of the literature reveals, a process of delegitimization of debt itself, and of creditors’ claims, is a precondition for the actual emergence of resistances, or at least for them to be imagined by debtors.

Overindebtedness

Indebtedness evolves into situations of overindebtedness when borrowers experience persistent difficulties keeping up with loan repayments as they were initially stipulated. This may happen due to a variety of factors, including what some authors call “financial imprudence,” “poor financial decisions,” “lack of foresight,” “financial illiteracy,” or similar concepts (D’Alessio and Iezzi 2013; Garcés and Salcedo 2008). Such situations may be aggravated by a lack of transparency regarding the terms and conditions of the loan as well as by fraud and predation on the creditors’ side (Zunzunegui 2013, 2018; Reid 2010), often as an outcome of insufficient consumer protection (Gutiérrez de Cabiedes and Cantero 2014; Tusquets 2005). In fact, the literature that emphasizes individual responsibility for overindebtedness rarely takes into account more structural factors, such as whether assessments of the creditworthiness of borrowers by creditors are relaxed under certain structures of incentives, or to what extent lending and borrowing practices are regulated in that particular context. In some cases, a regulation may encourage either caution or recklessness by both the borrower and lender.

In other cases, overindebtedness is attributed to external and unpredictable circumstances, such as decreased income, unexpected expenses, and increased interest and cost of debt (D’Alessio and Iezzi 2013). For instance, in the arena of household debt, overindebtedness may be the result of an unexpected decrease of income derived from unemployment, underemployment, or other adverse circumstances such as illness, disability, the breakup of marital relationships, or changes in the composition of the household. These cases, labeled as “passive overindebtedness” in some sources (Garcés and Salcedo 2008), have in common that debtors are not considered accountable for their difficulties to service debts. In order to overcome the sharp dichotomy that blames some debtors for their situation and exonerates others, some authors challenge the view of the acts of borrowing as the result of rational choice, as economistic approaches and some policymakers take for granted (Weiss 2014; Walker 2012). In fact, critical scholars point out that, in a neoliberal regime of accumulation where credit plays a central role, with the collusion of financial interests and state actions (Soederberg 2014), indebtedness has become a generalized precondition for social reproduction after the crisis of Keynesianism (Caffentzis 2014). Under such circumstances, overindebtedness is often inherent to the condition of poverty itself, as the poor find themselves constrained to borrow money, often from banking institutions, in order to meet their most basic needs (Gloukoviezoff 2006; Terrones 2013; Gutiérrez and Domènech 2017; Weiss 2014).

Among a variety of definitions, debtors may be considered as overindebted whenever their commitment to service their debts seriously impairs their ability to adequately pursue other obligations (Gutiérrez de Cabiedes and Cantero 2014). This is common in the case of household debt, when households find themselves under the poverty line after servicing their monthly repayments (D’Alessio and Iezzi 2013), or, in the case of indebted states, when the burden of sovereign debt prevents them from taking care of the interests of their population (Pettifor 1998; Llopis 2013).

In empirical research, operational definitions of the notion of overindebtedness tend to focus on objective indicators (European Commission 2008; Dubois and Anderson 2010; Fondeville, Özdemir, and Ward 2010), such as the proportion between available income—sometimes taking assets into account, too—and the amount of loan repayments. Normative statements are established in this regard. For example, in the case of mortgage loans, it is often stated that repayments should not exceed 30 percent of household income, and that mortgages should not exceed 80 percent of the total value of the housing unit (Sabaté 2018). In addition to this focus on the volume or the cost of debts, some authors also take into account whether debtors have already gone into arrears, or have serious prospects to do so (Disney, Bridges, and Gathergood 2008), as well as the number of loans to be serviced simultaneously (D’Alessio and Iezzi 2013). A distinction should be traced, however, between overindebtedness and insolvency; although the latter is usually the consequence of the former (Gutiérrez de Cabiedes and Cantero 2014), measures of overindebtedness point at difficulties that borrowers are either currently facing, or could potentially face in the event of economic hardship. Overindebted debtors, as a result, may already be in default, or likely to reach that condition (European Commission 2008).

In order to obtain a more complete picture of this phenomenon, a number of authors (D’Alessio and Iezzi 2013; Sabaté 2018) suggest to go beyond objective, heteronomous, and quantitative definitions of overindebtedness and advocate for the exploration of its subjective dimension: whether debt is experienced as a burden. The subjective perception of overindebtedness, including the social meanings attached to its objective, quantifiable dimension, stands among the factors that help to trigger the disobedience of overindebted debtors to debt-servicing discipline. This is why it may be useful to depart from the self-perception of borrowers concerning their indebtedness, for instance, from “households’ perceptions about the influence of mortgage repayments and housing costs in particular, on their financial situation more generally” (Georgarakos, Lojschova, and Ward-Warmedinger 2010, 15), in order to address the actual or potential emergence of resistances.

The effects and consequences of overindebtedness can be seen as twofold. On the one hand, a vast literature shows how overindebtedness has an impact on material living conditions, as it leads to or aggravates economic precariousness and impoverishment (Guérin, Morvant-Roux, and Villarreal 2014; Wilkis 2015), dispossesses debtors of basic resources by overwhelming their means of livelihood (Dudley 2000), undermines potential solidarities among debtors or workers (Federici 2014; Vetta forthcoming), excludes debtors from society or from the social sectors they intended to reach (James 2014), and expels them from the formal economy (Sassen 2015). Because of the psychological suffering it causes (Vásquez-Vera et al. 2016), overindebtedness may even lead to the deaths of debtors, as in the waves of suicides described by Dudley (2000) and Guérin, Morvant-Roux, and Villarreal (2014).

On the other hand, the political effects of overindebtedness have also been illustrated by several scholars, most of them adopting a Foucauldian approach to power relations between creditors and debtors. From this viewpoint, indebtedness exerts a disciplining force on credit borrowers, whose choices and agency are seriously constrained. In this sense, Lazzarato’s (2012) indebted man is a dependent, disempowered subject, always at risk of being punished if they do not manage to behave as “responsible, entrepreneurial, and self-disciplined financial subjects” (Langley 2009, 1404). Debtors are thus systemically caught in a particular modality of governmentality (Lazzarato 2014; Vaccaro, Hirsch, and Sabaté2019; Vetta forthcoming; Marambio 2018; Fouillet et al. 2016) that Ross (2013) has called a “creditocracy.” In line with this approach, several authors have depicted “debt literacy” or “financial education” programs implemented in different countries (James 2014; Marambio 2018; Ampudia de Haro 2014) as devices that “discipline individuals to take responsibility for their own financial . . . decisions” (Langley 2007, 69), and that divert public attention from the circumstances that cause certain people to get indebted (Walker 2012), building “financial behavioural normativities” (Pathak 2013) that fit into a neoliberal ethos, and stigmatizing any deviation from them.

Debt Resistances

As a result of certain events and circumstances, some overindebted borrowers go into default. This can be due to their inability to repay their debts. Their indebtedness has become an unbearable burden for their economies, to the extent that they cannot afford to repay the next installment, or one in the near future. Also, it can be the case that debtors start perceiving their debts or creditors’ demands as illegitimate, for example, when they are the victims of abusive interest rates or predatory lending practices (Reid 2010; Zunzunegui 2018), or when they feel that the actual amount of the loan has already been repaid. In those cases, debt refusal can emerge, either on an individual basis or in a collective dimension, entailing an empowerment of debtors who thus acquire a transformative potential (Karagiannis and Wagner 2018). Both features of debt, unbearability and illegitimacy, can coincide in some cases, while in others only one of them will be at play as the cause of default.

The consequences of debt default have moral and legal natures. Moral consequences derive from the fact that the obligation to repay is not fulfilled, as Graeber (2011) has emphasized. This usually involves social sanctions and the stigmatization of defaulting debtors (Jefferson 2013; Colau and Alemany 2014). In turn, legal consequences include enforcement procedures devised to force repayment through debt collection mechanisms, such as demanding late payment fees or seizing the debtor’s income or assets in exchange for the outstanding debt. However, as Deville (2015) and Davey (2018) have described in the British context, debt enforcement is not an automatic outcome of default: rather, the probability of enforcement varies depending on the type of debt, and debtors are aware of this fact and act accordingly. They may, for example, prioritize the repayment of those debts more likely to be enforced, or “juggle” their multiple financial obligations in order to get by (Guérin, Morvant-Roux, and Villarreal 2014), manipulate temporalities, negotiate their reputation as good debtors (Villarreal 2008), or even use “amoral humour about being a bad debtor” (Davey 2019, 2).

A maximalist approach to debt resistances, such as the one chosen by Montgomerie and Tepe-Belfrage (2019), entails the inclusion in this category of a great diversity of “strategies of resistance to the moral authority of debt” (2019, 310), as variegated as the following: paying lower amounts than stipulated, diverting expenditures, canceling the loan, paying it off altogether, prioritizing some debts over others (based on the likelihood of enforcement), and so on. Indeed, these authors identify very heterogeneous practices, including debt refusal as the most subversive possibility or paying down the whole debt in less time than stipulated. This does not entail any kind of default, and while in some cases it is stipulated as a possibility in contracts, this action disrupts creditors’ expectations to some extent and may well reduce their profits. However, in thinking about “resistances,” it is important to avoid the conflation of disparate practices and behaviors that significantly differ from one another in terms of several crucial factors, most importantly, their collective or individual nature and their inscription in transformative, emancipatory projects, or the lack thereof.

The different situations described seem to point at the coexistence of forms of collective contestation—in the most conspicuous cases aiming at debtors’ emancipation from the rule of debts altogether—with everyday, small-scale breaches of the stipulations of debt repayment, the latter entailing what could be called an “infrapolitics” of debt resistance. Some authors (Caffentzis 2013, 2014; Dear, Dear, and Jones 2013; Montgomerie and Tepe-Belfrage 2019; Caraus 2016; Ross 2014a; Larson 2014) interpret all these kinds of practices as some form of action against a “debt economy” (Caffentzis 2013) or a “government by debt” (Lazzarato 2014), with different degrees of politicization and different aspirations at systemic transformation and sometimes with no such aspirations at all. A continuum, with emancipation from debts on one end—either in an economic or in a political sense—and a much less ambitious, ad hoc management of everyday constraints imposed by debts on the other, may capture the heterogeneity of practices and strategies encompassed by the “debt resistances” label. However, taking into account the dangers of a too indiscriminate use of the “resistance” notion (Brown 1996) that can lead to the conflation of survival struggles with much more trivial everyday practices (Viola 2008), it is necessary to refine our conceptual tools by making them sensitive to the debtors’ accounts of their own behavior, keeping in mind the possibility that they act in the way they do as a mere coping strategy that may be, in fact, contributing to reproduce existing power relations (Blom Hansen and Stepputat 2001), or adhering to new ones (Abu-Lughod 1990), from their subordinate position.1

According to Ross (2014a), the rule of debt on indebted subjects can only be counteracted or even neutralized by a conscious option for debt refusal. Drawing on his description of the incipient popular movements against widespread indebtedness in American society that derived from Occupy Wall Street, Ross contends that the refusal to repay debts has an emancipatory potential, as it subverts the order of finance capitalism, based on the domination of a creditor class over a debtor class, or what he calls a “creditocracy.” In a similar vein, Balibar (2013, 37) states that “resistance to the abusive power created by generalized debt will involve a combination of political struggles or popular revolts and legislation against speculation . . . at the transnational level.”

Movements aiming at debt cancellation without deeper transformations of the original causes of overindebtedness would no doubt entail a form of contestation, but they would lack the subversive potential of a more ambitious challenge to the status quo. Caffentzis (2013) observes as a paradox that whenever such movements succeed in challenging the domination of creditors over debtors, an immediate loss of mobilization potential tends to take place. This is especially the case for movements pushing for debt jubilees that, once their goal has been attained as debt relief or cancellation has been obtained, give the impression that the problem has been solved, even if the structural conditions that led to overindebtedness have remained unchanged, meaning that the situation may re-emerge in the future.

Indeed, a pertinent object of discussion to illuminate the politics of debt contestation with a Marxist inspiration is the relationship between social class and the social categories that emerge from debt relations. While Ross (2014a) or Larson (2014) depict a major cleavage between a creditor and a debtor class in contemporary society, one that gives way to power relations that set the foundations of a “creditocracy,” where “the debt relation and the wage relation are fundamentally entwined” (Ross 2013, 12), the autonomist Marxist philosopher Caffentzis (2013, 825) argues there is a “‘failure of coincidence’ between class and debt.” On the one hand, there are noncapitalists who take on “profit debt,” in order to invest and to supplement their sources of livelihood, such as when members of the working class purchase second homes as an investment. And on the other, there are capitalists who become indebted in the arena of consumption, that is to say, to reproduce themselves, or to satisfy their own needs or desires. The result of this lack of coincidence between class and debt categories can, on the one hand, hinder the collective organization of debtors, as, unlike wage relations, debtor-creditor relations are highly individualized and alienating (Caffentzis 2016). But, on the other hand, the relative disconnection of class and debt categories may also be productive for debt resistance movements, as interclass alliances may emerge (Caffentzis 2013; Federici 2014)—bringing together college students and workers, for example (Larson 2014)—and contribute to the impact and visibility of mobilizations as well as to the remaking of solidarities and commoning practices that have been eroded by neoliberal reforms. Still, the interclass nature of the indebted will always remain a source of tension within the movement, as has already been the case in Strike Debt, a movement that emerged from Occupy Wall Street in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis (Larson 2014; Ross 2014b; Appel 2015). Also, some authors have pointed at the overlaps between the collective identification as debtors and national identities, in opposition to a creditor class that is perceived as coming from abroad (Mann 2016; Mikuš 2019).

Looking back at the history of debt resistance, Caffentzis (2013) identifies some general features of social movements acting in this field. As the main aspect, “a sense of social unity through collective indebtedness instead of decomposition through individual debt” (Caffentzis 2013, 828) needs to be created, so that debtors get over feelings of shame and guilt (Colau and Alemany 2014) and start seeing their debt as illegitimate, and their indebtedness as a condition shared with other fellow citizens. In the case described by Caffentzis, that of the movement El Barzón in Mexico, this does not necessarily entail a categorical refusal to repay, but a claim for fairer conditions of repayment in the face of the illegitimate intentions of creditors. In other cases described in the literature, such as the Spanish Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (Platform of people affected by mortgages, or PAH), a much more straightforward appeal for debt refusal is made, in the face of what is understood as a large-scale fraud perpetrated by banks and financial actors (Colau and Alemany 2014; Sabaté 2018), and an unacceptable transgression of moral economy principles (Sabaté 2016a). The “morality play” around debt and indebtedness is also highlighted by Ross (2013, 14), who sees the “moral demonization of debt refusal” as the main obstacle to be overcome for a debtors’ movement to emerge.

Although historical accounts of debt and indebtedness do not usually address the matter of overt resistance to it, debt politics is implicit in the early development of regulations aiming to constrain usurious lending, often on religious and moral grounds (Geisst 2013; Hudson 2018; Hudson and Goodhart 2018), as well as in the regular declaration of jubilees and debt redemption in ancient times (Graeber 2011). The stipulation of bankruptcy processes in civil law (Cohen 1982), the constraints imposed on credit lending, and the imposition of regulations to phenomena such as consumer’s debt (Williams 2004) can also be understood as the outcome of the social tensions and struggles around excessive indebtedness. Several authors (Caffentzis 2013; Caraus 2016; Larson 2014; Federici 2014) describe two distinct waves or trends of debt resistance movements: the first emerged in the final decades of the 20th century in the context of the sovereign debt crisis that threatened the national economies of the Global South, while the second, following the 2008 recession, includes struggles against mortgage and household debt (including student and health debts) as well as against the exploitation entailed by microfinance programs. Caffentzis (2014) identifies as a weakness of debt resistance movements the disconnection between these two types of struggle that greatly differ in terms of scale: the former operates at a macro level, while the latter at the micro level.

In addition to the scholarship that has addressed historical and contemporary experiences of debt resistance, as is the case for many of the authors already quoted, there is considerable writing and reflection on the potentialities for future resistance. In that sense, some authors try to follow the trail of potential resistances emerging in contexts that may seem politically irrelevant at first sight. That is the case of the online forums investigated by Deville (2015) in the United Kingdom or by Stout (2016) in the United States, where counternarratives questioning the legitimacy of debts are to be found. For these authors, those virtual spaces could plant the seeds of future mobilization, as they entail a first step toward countering hegemonic narratives on debt and default, and they reinforce the agency and empowerment of debtors in trouble by fostering mutual aid and advice. Other scholars, however, are not so optimistic concerning the political potentialities of the weak ties and rudimentary networks weaved among participants in online forums and other spaces of interpersonal contact. In their view, debt resistance and contestation need to be tackled in connection to much wider projects of transformation. Thus, Caraus (2016, 138) questions the possibility to subvert the rule of debt on people’s lives without a deep restructuration of the systemic conditions of financial capitalism: “Is debt cancellation, even on a mass scale, the only aim of debt resistance or it should aim at a deeper restructuring of the economic system that creates indebtedness?,” she asks. According to her, seemingly successful movements, such as those that have obtained debt cancellations, are in fact operating in favor of creditors’ interests by reducing default rates, and they fail to prevent a new cycle of indebtedness.

Caraus (2016) seeks to go beyond the foundational works of the contemporary discussions on debt—Graeber (2011) and Lazzarato (2012, 2014)—to identify the conditions of possibility for debt refusal to emerge. In her view, despite their alleged intention to contribute to challenge debt obligations by historicizing and identifying power dynamics underlying debt relations, both authors fail to provide solid grounds for debt resistance. According to Caraus, the contingency and contestability of debt need to be highlighted in order to truly foster resistance. As Sabaté (2018) has shown in the case of the Spanish mortgage crisis, debt resistance movements may grow as long as they lead borrowers to see default as a realistic possibility, be it a choice of the lesser of two evils—as in “repay or eat” dilemmas—a conscious, politically loaded option, or something in-between.

Although for Caraus (2016), while Graeber has contributed to de-sacralize and therefore challenge the moral obligation to repay debts, his contextualization of current indebtedness as the outcome of the powerful historical forces that sustain the current regime of financial accumulation turns out to be too deterministic and leaves little scope for the emergence of resistances. In turn, Lazzarato’s thesis, based on the control of individuals through indebtedness, and the imposition on them of a “debt subjectivity” in line with a neoliberal ethos, lacks greater specificity on how “the indebted man” can become conscious of his own condition and attain a “debt free subjectivity” (2016, 150). In criticizing these shortcomings, Caraus recommends to avoid the naturalization and reification of debt as a first step to build a critique that offers “theoretical weapons for an agency of resistance” (2016, 155). For her, the contestability of debt rests on the assumption that it is contingent in a variety of senses: not everyone is indebted, and those who are indebted are not necessarily subject to the terms that neoliberalism seems to impose on all: that the obligation to repay displays much contextual variation, and can be counteracted by showing proofs of the inability to repay or by pointing at the illegitimacy of certain debts, and the acknowledgment of the foundational role of debt in society should not automatically erase any space for contestation.

Forms of Resistance

Debt resistance is very heterogeneous. The variety of forms that may be adopted depends largely on the scale of the indebted entity, which explains the important contrasts and the disconnection between movements resisting household debts and those struggling against sovereign or public debt, as Caffentzis (2014) has pointed out.

Nevertheless, we find it more productive to classify resistances based upon the degree of contestation to the obligation to repay that is entailed by them.

On one end of a continuum of resistances (Viola 2008, 67), everyday strategies to cope with overindebtedness can be identified. Typically, this would be the case of individuals and households in default, or at risk of being in that situation, who devise practices to navigate among the threats of debt enforcement. That is what happens, for instance, when debtors “juggle” with their debts, seeking support from the social networks where they already are members, attaching themselves to new mutual help relationships, looking for ways to supplement their sources of income through wage work or informal activities, and so on (Villarreal 2014). Also, these everyday strategies may include calculations and internal operations within household economies, certain ways to manage or prioritize expenses, and even the anticipation of full repayment in order to avoid the costs associated with a long period of indebtedness (Montgomerie and Tepe-Belfrage 2017).

Strategies to manage indebtedness that entail what we can consider “everyday resistances” have also been described in the field of microfinance. For instance, Guérin and Kumar (2008) illustrate how, despite the hierarchical relations that are established in south India between microcredit borrowers and NGO officers acting as brokers, this asymmetry does not prevent some degree of resistance on the part of debtors/clients, who take an active role in managing their relations with brokers according to their own interests. This picture matches the one offered by Picherit (2014, 152), who shows the mobilization of different kinds of capital and ties to a variety of actors and institutions by south Indian laborers aiming at securing their livelihoods.

Also in this category of everyday debt resistances, we may include what some actors call “strategic default” (White 2010), as in the cases described by Jefferson (2013) or Stout (2016), when households in the United States decide to stop repaying their mortgages as soon as the value of their dwelling—and therefore the price they could obtain if they sold it—is lower than their outstanding debt. Once their mortgage is “underwater,” and therefore incentives to remain servicing their debt are absent, they consider walking away from their homes.

As a common feature of all these cases, even if debtors are challenging their obligation to repay, and therefore threatening to a certain extent the interests of creditors, their only aspiration is to manage ad hoc the everyday constraints imposed by debts on their economies. As Davey (2018) has shown, that may require specific attitudes and dispositions to downplay the presence of indebtedness and default in everyday lives and within intimate spaces. In a similar vein, Montgomerie and Tepe-Belfrage (2019) describe the “emotional labour” invested in managing debts and the harms they bring to overindebted borrowers.

Also at a low level of collective organization and of transformative aspirations, the search for relevant information concerning debt and the probability of enforcement leads some debtors to join online forums (Stout 2016; Deville 2015; Montgomerie and Tepe-Belfrage 2017), where they get in touch with other people in similar situations and, in addition to obtaining some answers to their technical questions, may engage in the production of narratives counterbalancing mainstream understandings of default.

In some cases, borrowers may reach out for assistance from third parties, like third sector or nonprofit organizations providing debt advice (Davey 2017; Kirwan 2018), in order to obtain a more accurate view of their situation and possible courses of action. These may include negotiation with creditors in order to obtain debt forbearance or restructuration. The role of debt advisers in legitimizing debt governmentality has been the object of controversy. While some ethnographic accounts confirm that, in some cases, they contribute to safeguard the interests of creditors by emphasizing debtors’ moral obligation to repay, according to Davey (2017), that assertion should not be generalized. As he has illustrated, some advisers in the United Kingdom even advocate debt refusal to some of their clients, or at least openly criticize the existing mechanisms of wealth redistribution and the austerity measures implemented in the second decade of the 21st century. Kirwan (2018), in turn, contends that debt advice plays a “disruptive role,” as it encourages debtors to reflect on the causes of their situation and to rethink their relationship with debt collectors. In all, even if the legitimacy of debts is not necessarily questioned in interactions between debtors and debt advisers, the conditions of repayment tend to be so, on the basis of changes in market conditions and/or in debtors’ economies. The general principle would be that, in the event of a deterioration of the borrower’s solvency, it would be an abuse on the creditor’s part to maintain the same conditions of repayment. Rather, it would be fair—in the sense of a moral economy of debt repayment (Sabaté 2016a; Stout 2019; Montgomerie and Tepe-Belfrage 2017)—to expect some adjustments that would allow borrowers to keep up servicing their debt (White 2010). Of course, it is also the case that creditors often benefit as well from debt renegotiations, in that debts continue to be serviced, often at the price of higher interest rates, by debtors who would otherwise be definitely in default. From this viewpoint, debt advice does not promote debt resistance. That is also what takes place when defaulting debtors bring their individual cases to court in order to obtain debt recovery, as Vetta (forthcoming) has described in Greece: in an unmistakably de-politicizing move, their lawyers display the facts in such a way that clients appear as decent, morally acceptable debtors and victims of their own circumstances in front of the judge who will rule on the granting or denial of debt restructuring.

As another relevant phenomenon, Montgomerie and Tepe-Belfrage (2019) conceptualize debt auditing as the first step toward the construction of movements aiming at debt cancellation. Here, the aim of debt auditing is to develop consciousness about illegitimate debts, and therefore a challenge that may lead to resistance. In their words, “caring for debts” (2019, 13) is a precondition to resist them, and this may happen either individually or collectively.

In the case of sovereign and public debt, debt audits are typically the foundation of debt cancellation campaigns with political and legal arguments used as the justification for the partial or total refusal of debts incurred in the framework of unequal, global debtor-creditor relations that often reproduce center-periphery dynamics. As Llopis (2013) contends, despite the general understanding that loans must be repaid as an absolute obligation, there is much historical experience of sovereign debt being canceled. After mentioning several cases of debt cancellations in the 19th century, he then points at more recent experiences in Nigeria, Argentina, Ecuador, and Iceland. Mader and Rothenbühler (2009) have also collected several case studies both in Western countries (Austria, Sweden) and in the Global South (Congo, Congo Brazzaville, South Africa, Haiti, Paraguay, Argentina, Ecuador).

For Boyce and Ndikumana (2012, 36), systematic debt audits should be applied to identify “odious debts,” which, according to international law, are those parts of sovereign debt “from which the people derived no benefit, and which were contracted without their consent, in situations where the creditors knew or should have known these circumstances” (Michalowski 2009a, 17). Boyce and Ndikumana (2012) suggest that the claims supporting the unilateral repudiation of debts can be made according to three sets of criteria: legal principles contained in international law, equity and ethical principles (responsible lending and diligent use of the loans), and developmental loans, that is to say, whether they were used in the interest of the people. Llopis (2013) enumerates some justifications of sovereign debt cancellations that are being claimed or that have already been attained: the fact that debts were incurred under a dictatorship; the identification of global drivers that led the country to overindebtedness despite the government’s “good faith”; cases in which loans were not channeled to the development projects they were intended to fund, or were used to build infrastructures that damaged local people or the environment; the investment of borrowed funds in the purchase of weapons and military equipment; the strategic imposition of indebtedness as a strategy to force the implementation of austerity measures; or the self-declaration of a country’s “state of necessity” as a situation preventing its government from meeting its obligations toward citizens.

Abrahams (2009) describes the expansion of the notion of “illegitimate debts” from its first formulations up to the present and how it now encompasses both illegal debts, and those that may be legal, but which violate “moral considerations” and/or “social norms,” and therefore have an impact on social and human rights.

A well-known example of a debt cancellation campaign was the Jubilee 2000 Coalition (Pettifor 1998; Keet 2000; Buxton 2004). Drawing on moral arguments largely inspired by the Catholic Church (Donnelly 2007), the coalition denounced the huge outflow of debt repayments channeled from southern countries toward creditors every year, an outflow that greatly exceeded the aid received. For campaigners, under the auspices of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the overindebtedness of poor countries prevented the construction of democratic institutions and “denied people in these countries control over their own destiny” (Pettifor 1998, 121). The coalition conceptualized the debt crisis as a “crisis of reckless over-lending” with no impartial arbitration (Pettifor 1998, 120). After obtaining a partial, unsatisfactory debt relief package for the most heavily indebted countries in 1996, the movement grew stronger in the late 1990s and organized protests during G8 summits. The coalition pushed for a “debt-free start to the new Millennium” (Buxton 2004), calling for the writing off of unpayable accumulated debts. This did not entail a total cancellation of debt, but its reduction to levels that allowed the development of debtor countries (Pettifor 1998). Some disagreements emerged on the aims of the campaign (Keet 2000; Buxton 2004), particularly between activists from northern and southern countries, and between those with a “contestual” vs a “consensual” approach to civil society (Buxton 2004). In 1999, during a summit in Cologne, an initiative from the G8 countries entailing limited debt relief and selective reduction aggravated the internal disagreements of campaigners, as some of them were prone to accept it as a first step, while others attached themselves to the original goal of having unpayable debts canceled by 2000, with the argument that the debts had already been repaid in the form of “social and environmental damage, political unrest, and human suffering” (Keet 2000, 463). Despite these shortcomings of the campaign and the fact that its goals were not fully achieved, authors like Buxton (2004) contend that Jubilee 2000 led to increased scrutiny of neoliberal reforms and to the transformation of understandings of public debt. It also emphasized the importance of transparency and civil society participation in public finance.

As a financial crisis broke out in 2007, a revitalization of debt cancellation claims took place in the form of citizen debt audit movements, during the proliferation of popular mobilizations around the globe. The Occupy Wall Street movement gave way to Strike Debt in the United States, and the Platform for a Citizen Debt Audit (Plataforma por una Auditoría Ciudadana de la Deuda, PACD) emerged from the 15M movement in Spain. In the case of the latter, activists who had been struggling against the sovereign debts of southern countries around the turn of the century came together with those concerned with the imposition of austerity on the basis of the public debt crisis in the European periphery (Cutillas 2014). Mostly inspired by the Ecuadorian experience, they demanded transparency and accountability in the acquisition of loans by the government, and aimed at the identification and repudiation of the illegitimate parts of public debt by means of consultations and participatory deliberations in several municipalities. This citizen debt audit movement was also formed in other European countries (such as Greece, Portugal, Ireland, the United Kingdom, France) and in the North of Africa. And, already in the second decade of the 21st century, in the United Kingdom, similar claims have been made in the arena of household debt and consumer credit, including the Household Debt Jubilee Coalition, which advocates for a mass household debt write-off with the intermediation of the British State (Davey 2018; Clifton and Gibbons 2018).

The most conspicuous manifestations of debt resistance are those ways of challenging indebtedness that, even if they target particular debt cancellations or forms of relief in the short term, ultimately seek—or at least are able to imagine—an emancipation from debts altogether, both in an economic and in a political sense, as part of a rationale that identifies the generation of perpetual indebtedness as inherent to the workings of financial capitalism. Debt refusal as a political project in this sense entails “taking debt relief for themselves, through civil disobedience if necessary” (Ross 2013, 14), and needs to acquire a collective character, taking the form of more or less institutionalized social movements, or of insurgencies and popular revolts like those described in Caffentzis’s (2013) history of debt resistance.

The anti-debt movement that has been most frequently mentioned and most profusely described in the social sciences literature is Occupy Student Debt, a campaign derived from Occupy Wall Street in the United States, which had a strong presence of college students. They denounced how the future incomes of students after graduation will be transferred into the hands of creditors who provided the loans necessary to pay for an increasingly expensive, privatized higher education. One of its most significant initiatives was a campaign consisting of encouraging students to sign a pledge where they committed themselves to refuse payments if one million signatures were gathered (Ross 2014b; Appel 2015; Figart 2017; Larson 2014; Caraus 2016).

Also in the United States, activists taking part in Strike Debt, a later evolution of Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Student Debt, wrote the Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual (2012), a detailed document that “aims to provide specific tactics for understanding and fighting against the debt system so that we can all reclaim our lives and our communities” (2012, 2). It also includes an identification of the actors, practices, and processes involved in debtor-creditor relations and covers the different modalities of debt that are at play in the United States. It further seeks to inspire collective action in the arena of debt refusal.

There is also a wide body of literature on the movement against home repossessions that emerged in Barcelona, Spain, in 2009 with the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH). It is no doubt a very conspicuous example of collective organization against overindebtedness, able to trigger what Suárez (2017) has called “debt revolts.” Households who face difficulties in repaying their mortgages have deployed their struggle in several fields (Sabaté 2019, 87–90; Lundsteen and Sabaté 2018, 203–205), including acts of civil disobedience against foreclosures, where the police and judicial representatives are physically prevented from taking control of the property; regular meetings in local assemblies as spaces of mutual support, where debtors’ sense of shame, guilt, and isolation is counteracted, and where the collective dimension of the problem becomes evident (Colau and Alemany 2014; Pisarello 2013); collective counseling oriented at negotiations with banks, so that debtors acquire expert knowledge from more experienced members and volunteer lawyers (Sabaté 2016b); promotion of political engagement and influence on public opinion to force legal changes at several levels of public administration as well as to put pressure on credit institutions who have played a prominent part in the multiplication of repossessions (Barbero 2015); and collective squatting of bank-owned buildings as a means to provide evicted members with alternative housing as well as to protest against the violation of the social function of housing (García Lamarca 2017). The strategies and methods of the PAH assemblies are described by social scientists as an example of good practice among social movements emerging from the 2008 financial and economic crisis. This literature has tended to focus on the role of collective counseling to promote the agency of the affected and provide them with tools to face banking agents or civil servants as well as on the empowerment process experienced by many members as they have overcome their helplessness and desperation through their incorporation to the collective (Mir, França, Macías and Veciana 2013; Mangot 2013; Azis 2016). All in all, despite the stubborn reluctance of the Spanish government to introduce meaningful legislative changes, the PAH has been successful in building a common identity for mortgage defaulters, not only at the level of their particular cases but also turning them into a collective social actor that has overcome its previous stigma and invisibility.

Alongside these well-known examples, other anti-debt movements have also been described elsewhere in the world. In Latin America, Guzmán (2014) has compared the case of Chilean mortgage debtors who engaged in mortgage strikes during a government-ordered foreclosure moratorium, sustaining their protest for several years, with those who, under very similar circumstances, decided to keep repaying despite their very adverse economic situations by consenting to cooperate with creditors and the financial system in the absence of actual coercion. Guzmán takes into account the costs of protesting in terms of potential repression as well as each household’s level of deprivation, and the moral values, group identification, and solidarities enacted among protesters. In Uruguay, Vidal (2018) addresses the peculiar case of inhabitants of mutual-aid housing cooperatives who organized mortgage strikes against financial expropriation. For Vidal, these cooperatives became an arena of political contestation thanks to the partially de-commodified nature of their housing and to the fact that debtors here are part of a collective rather than individuals, which helps to empower them and to make visible the antagonism underlying creditor-debtor relations.

In Greece, during the sovereign debt crisis and under the imposition of austerity legislation, mortgage debtors have struggled to prevent their properties’ auctions in court (Katerini 2017; Vavvos and Triliva 2018). They denounced that it was overindebted households, rather than banks, who were paying for the financial crisis with their properties. As the law that protected most homeowners was repeatedly amended in favor of creditors from 2013 on, auctions multiplied, and were only slowed down in 2014–2015 by an ephemeral informal agreement between the state and the banks, according to which first homes could not be seized. After that, the movement decided to picket courts weekly to physically block auctions. In so doing they sought to prevent the key step that initiates the whole repossession process. Their action was hindered afterward with the introduction of electronic auctions.

Drawing on cases of two anti-household debt movements in Croatia, Mikuš (2019) concedes that financial expropriation through debt indeed opens a political arena, to which Polanyi’s notion of the “double movement” can be fruitfully applied. However, anti-debt movements are not necessarily progressive, left-wing, or radical, as are most of those extensively described in the current anthropological literature. His account reveals a particular pattern of contestation to indebtedness in semi-peripheral countries like Croatia or Hungary, where their dependent, subordinated situation in international relations and capital flows allows for exacerbated financial predation and where the government is unable—and to some extent unwilling—to protect their citizens from that harm. Debtors’ movements thus acquire a nationalist motivation and a populist discourse, according to which creditors are viewed as foreigners trying to financially expropriate national debtors. Rather than promoting a universalistic, all-encompassing social movement, these circumstances have fostered a narrow kind of defense against specific lending and debt-collection practices. Their struggle has taken the form of litigation for consumers’ rights and the launching of electoral initiatives in party politics, rather than public protests or direct action.

In the field of microfinance in the Global South, some debtors have organized collectively and engaged in debt refusal. In southern India where microcredits have greatly proliferated due to widespread poverty, Joseph (2014) addresses a “repayment stand-off” led by women debtors with the support of Muslim clerics who held economic interests in the local silk industry. The low pay and the volatility of jobs in this industry had led many female workers to try and start their own petty business on credit. For Joseph, the episode of debt refusal needs to be framed in local power relations, where a plethora of microfinance institutions (MFIs) were competing against one another and taking advantage of the lack of regulation of their activities, with exploitative practices toward debtors. As a result, debtors began to question the MFI’s questionable intentions to enhance local development since they found themselves burdened with an “unmanageable debt.” Parallel to this, local industrialists felt threatened as they were losing control of their wage workers. The repayment stand-off was possible thanks to the alignment of the interests of several actors, including not only impoverished microcredit borrowers but also members of a local industrial elite with the ability to mobilize the population with religious arguments. The refusal to repay the loans entailed no major disruption of local power relations, but instead led to the reinforcement of class and gender hierarchies.

A movement against microcredits in a rural, poor region of Morocco has also been studied by Morvant-Roux and Moisseron (2019). Following a delinquency crisis in 2008–2009 and the bankruptcy of one of the main microfinance lenders in the country, opposition emerged in the southern region of Ouarzazate, where trade unions and a network of activists already existed, and where the local situation was aggravated by cross-borrowing practices alongside other strategies to try to cope with overindebtedness, including selling their few belongings, leaving their homes and migrating to the city, or resorting to prostitution. Taking advantage of the lack of formal enforcement procedures and the difficulty of seizing assets or formal income from the poor, two clients sued several microcredit firms in 2011, calling “for the cancellation of debts in the light of the precarious situation of borrowers,” (Morvant-Roux and Moisseron 2019, 223) and a further twelve hundred debtors joined them. Their relative success entailed a disruption of the financial expropriation process to the extent that structural changes in the Moroccan microfinance sector needed to be introduced for a new cycle of microcredit lending to be inaugurated.

Of course, debt resistance movements do not always appear as isolated events, but are rather integrated into wider struggles where not only debtors but also other social actors are involved. That is the case for movements that oppose neoliberal urbanization and the financialization of housing and/or of urban space (Harvey 2012; Fields 2017; Di Feliciantonio 2016) as well as anti-gentrification movements (Vollmer 2018). Although the literature on these movements is not the object of this article, it can be noted that, among their claims, there tends to be a denunciation of how mortgage overindebtedness, and its outcomes in terms of home repossessions, as well as the colonization of housing stocks by the interests of the financial industry, leads to the violation of the right to housing. In addition, struggles against austerity programs implemented since the 2008 financial crisis also tend to incorporate anti-debt claims among their arguments, as both public and private indebtedness has been used as a justification for the implementation of budget cuts and financial discipline that have aggravated the situation of overindebted countries and households (Berglund 2017; Katerini 2017; Huke, Clua-Losada, and Bailey 2015; Leidereiter 2017; Narotzky 2016).

Finally, debt resistances and contestation may not only take the form of counternarratives and countermovements that promote debt refusal or civil disobedience to the rule of debt on people’s lives but also may involve the design and construction of alternative forms of banking and credit lending practices, like the possibilities for an alternative regulation of the financial sector discussed within the Alternative Banking Group emanating from Occupy Wall Street (Appel 2014). In fact, there already exists a variety of banking institutions that entail an alternative approach to lending practices to some extent: these include cooperatives and credit unions, “social banks,” peer-to-peer lending, rotating savings and credit associations, public banking, and so on (DeClerck 2009; Alternative Banking Group of Occupy Wall Street 2013). As a telling example of a self-managed credit cooperative, Alquézar (2016) describes the case of Coop57 in Barcelona. This cooperative locates itself in the field of the social and solidarity economy, and offers its financial services observing ethical principles such as the avoidance of usurious interest rates, the explicit refusal to speculate with debt through securitization or other financial mechanisms, and the application of non-economic criteria to lending decisions. It also sets some red lines for the purposes of investments made with borrowed capital, prioritizing projects aimed at social transformation, and establishing the principles of transparency, accountability, and internal democracy for the functioning of borrower organizations.

Conclusion

A wide anthropological literature has tackled the social nature of debt and credit under contemporary capitalism, with its increasing centrality linked to financialization processes that involve the commodification of different kinds of debt. Within this framework, indebtedness appears in different modalities and reaches different scales: that of individuals or households (consumption credit, mortgages), that of entrepreneurs and firms (microcredits, corporate debt), and that of national economies and public administrations (sovereign or public debt).

In some cases, indebtedness evolves into overindebtedness as borrowers experience persistent difficulties in keeping up with loan repayments due to a variety of factors, including poor financial decisions, lack of transparency or even fraud on the creditors’ side, insufficient consumer protection, and other structural factors that incentivize recklessness on the part of both the borrowers and the lenders as well as unpredictable circumstances, such as decreased income or unexpected expenses. For critical scholars, acts of borrowing should not be seen as the result of rational choice, but as a naturalized behavior in the framework of a neoliberal regime of accumulation where credit plays a central role, and where indebtedness is a precondition for social reproduction, especially among the poor. Although empirical research into operational definitions of the notion of overindebtedness tends to focus on objective indicators and normative statements, a number of authors advocate for the exploration of its subjective dimension: when is debt experienced as a burden?

As for the effects and consequences of overindebtedness, on the one hand, it has an impact on material living conditions, as it leads to economic precariousness, impoverishment, and dispossession. On the other hand, overindebtedness also has political effects: if power relations between creditors and debtors are taken into account: it entails the disciplining and disempowerment of borrowers, who are forced to adopt a neoliberal ethos.

In the face of excessive indebtedness, in cases where debts are unpayable and/or are perceived as illegitimate, debtors may react in a variety of ways, giving way to different forms of resistance, including the refusal to repay. The politics of such resistances are to be understood as manifestations of opposition against a “debt economy” in which the most basic functions of household and national economies are only attainable through borrowing practices.

However, there are few cases where borrowers refuse to repay their debt for a conscious, politically motivated reason. In many other situations, their aim is not an emancipation from debt, but the attainment of more sustainable conditions for repayment, for instance, negotiating a restructuration with creditors, prioritizing certain financial obligations over others, and other strategies. Examples of resistance to overindebtedness with explicitly political aims include debt audits, debt cancellation campaigns, different forms of collective disobedience, calls for changes in legislative frameworks, and experimentation with alternative credit-lending institutions.

Apart from analyzing, comparing, and classifying existing forms of resistance, both in the past and in the present, many analyses have been devoted to the exploration the conditions of possibility for future resistances and the potential empowerment of debtors to emerge. However, further research is needed in order to better address the complexity entailed by the entanglements and tensions between resistance and conformity, or even active collaboration with creditors, practiced by debtors in capitalist societies. The great diversity of situations in which debtors find themselves as regards their diverging interests, the individual or collective character of their actions, and their degrees of vulnerability and exposure to financialization processes are crucial factors that contribute to shape the potential for resistance. And, as an additional challenge for research in this field, the depiction of creditors and debtors as always distinct, opposing groups needs to be qualified through the exploration of their interdependence as well as the fluidity of their identities. A potential society free from financial speculation and exploitative debts will not become thinkable unless such complexities are identified and acknowledged in the first place.

Further Reading

  • Caffentzis, George. 2013. “Reflections on the History of Debt Resistance: The Case of El Barzón.” South Atlantic Quarterly 112 (4): 824–830.
  • Caraus, Tamara. 2016. “Debt Resistance: Beyond or Within Capitalism?” Filozofija I DruŠtvo 27 (1): 137–157.
  • Dear, Jeremy, Paula Dear, and Tim Jones. 2013. Life and Debt: Global Studies of Debt and Resistance. London: Jubilee Debt Campaign.
  • Guérin, Isabelle, and Santosh Kumar. 2008. “The Social Life of Microfinance Projects: Brokerage and Resistance; A Case Study in South India.” Rural Microfinance and Employment Working Papers Series 2008–2.
  • Joseph, Nithya. 2014. “Mortgaging Used Sari-Skirts, Spear-Heading Resistance: Narratives from the Microfinance Repayment Stand-Off in a South Indian Town, 2008–2010.” In Microfinance, Debt and Over-Indebtedness: Juggling with Money, edited by Isabelle Guérin, Solène Morvant-Roux, and Magdalena Villarreal, 272–294. London: Routledge.
  • Larson, Ann. 2014. “The Case for Debt Resistance.” New Labor Forum 23 (2): 50–56.
  • Michalowski, Sabine. 2009b.“Using Private Law for the Repudiation of Odious Debts.” In How to Challenge Illegitimate Debt: Theory and Legal Case Studies, edited by Max Mader and André Rothenbühler, 23–26. Basel, Switzerland: Aktion Finanzplatz Schweiz.
  • Montgomerie, Johnna, and Daniela Tepe-Belfrage. 2019. “Spaces of Debt Resistance and the Contemporary Politics of Financialised Capitalism.” Geoforum 98: 309–317.
  • Morvant-Roux, Solène, and Jean-Yves Moisseron. 2019. “Collective Resistances to Microcredit in Morocco.” In The Rise and Fall of Global Microcredit, edited by Milford Bateman, Stephanie Blankenburg, and Richard Kozul-Wright, 216–229. Oxon, UK: Routledge.
  • Pettifor, Ann. 1998. “The Economic Bondage of Debt—and the Birth of a New Movement.” New Left Review 230: 115–122.
  • Ross, Andrew. 2014. Creditocracy and the Case for Debt Refusal. New York: OR Books.
  • Sabaté, Irene. 2016. “The Spanish Mortgage Crisis and the Re-Emergence of Moral Economies in Uncertain Times.” History and Anthropology 27 (1): 107–120.
  • Strike Debt/Occupy Wall Street. 2012. Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual.
  • Suárez, Maka. 2017. “Debt Revolts: Ecuadorian Foreclosed Families at the PAH in Barcelona.” Dialectical Anthropology 41: 263–277.
  • Vidal, Lorenzo. 2018. “The Politics of Creditor–Debtor Relations and Mortgage Payment Strikes: The Case of the Uruguayan Federation of Mutual-Aid Housing Cooperatives.” Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space 50 (6): 1189–1208.
  • White, Brent T. 2010. “The Morality of Strategic Default.” UCLA Law Review: Discourse 58: 155–164.

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Notes

  • 1. In this sense, an approach in terms of the “politics of debt” could be more encompassing, and therefore more fit to apprehend those situations in which creditors’ domination is to some extent challenged by debtors’ agency, but an intention to subvert debtor-creditor relations altogether is not necessarily at play.