Sam Kirwan and Leila Dawney convened a session at the Emotional Geographies conference at Edinburgh University on Economics and Governance: Affective Cartographies of Debt.
Session Summary: This session combines papers exploring the emotional experiences of debt; from the anxiety over unopened letters piling up at the door or the fear that attaches to contingently-held objects, to the non-financial (or more-than-financial) dimensions of debt - commitments to nation, family and friends. The session will build from the increasing body of work recognising that financial debts are located not only in the abstract space of financial arrangements, but in the lived rhythms, practices and commitments of debtors (for example Deville's (2012) work on debt collectors employing their own cartographies of affective capture)
In drawing together different areas of research into these rhythms, practices and...
commitments, the session will provide a unique space for assessing connections between the varied spaces of debt, providing opportunities for future research collaborations. It will also ask of how experiences of debt are changing and what such experiences can tell us about conditions of contemporary capitalism, the modalities of citizenship, and the potential for debt as a site of collective challenges and claims.
The session will be divided between four ten-minute individual papers and a round-table discussion. While the papers will explore different aspects of the affective dimensions of debt, the round-table discussion will consider also practices for researching these cartographies, moving towards a discussion of the methodological and theoretical approaches that can best inform future projects.
The papers will be delivered by Joe Deville, Leila Dawney and Ryan Davey. The session and round-table will be chaired by Sam Kirwan, who will also give a short introduction to the work he has been doing on the emotional dimensions of debt advice.
Presentation 1: Between the Debtor and the Collector
Joe Deville, Goldsmiths University of London, UK
This paper examines what can be learned from considering the emotional spaces that exist between, on the one side, a defaulting debtor and, on the other, a debt collector tasked with recovering some or all of a defaulting debt that has, for whatever reason, ‘gone bad’. It argues for an attention to the role of both the ‘devices’ of consumer credit default – that include, but are not limited to, collections letters, telephone calls, the assessment of debtors through forms of algorithmic calculation – and the operations of affect. Holding together an interest in both devices and affect points towards how particular objects and processes push and pull us in one direction or another, while also sensitising our attention to what happens in the space of encounter between a device and a body. For instance, if, when a collections letter drops on the doormat, the debtor recognises it as such, why might s/he be drawn towards opening this particular device more than another? If, after having read it and put it down somewhere in the house, why is it that some of the letter’s contents continue to nag at the debtor, intruding unwanted into their thoughts, potentially at inopportune moments? In exploring such questions, and drawing on research both with defaulting debtors and from the interior of the UK debt collections industry, it examines the way in which both the bodily capacities and emotional responses associated with living the everyday life of default are the outcomes of very specific, very contingent arrangements of social and material processes.
Presentation 2: Mise en scene: an art of optimism among the over-indebted
Ryan Davey, University of Cambridge, UK
This paper inquires as to the specificities of hope in political-economic conditions of widespread consumer debt. I examine the arts of optimism engaged by residents on a “deprived” housing estate in England in response to threats of legal enforcement for unpaid debts. These arts approached debt in spatial rather than realist terms and involved optimistic mises en scène.
Presentation 3: Debt Stories 'live' methods for investigating the messy entanglements of the indebted subject
Leila Dawney, Brighton University, UK
This paper introduces a new research project that aims to investigate the ways in which debt and indebtedness are experienced, as well as how they are imagined, discussed and dealt with in Brighton. The research will consider the forms of attachments, anxieties, resistances and (im)mobilities that debt produces, and attempt to foreground the messy entanglements of personal and impersonal ties, obligations, shame and resilience that debt produces in and through subjects. Drawing on “live” methods (Back & Puwar, 2013) such as storying and critical mapping (Gunuratnam, 2009, Casas-Cortes and Cobarrubias, 2007), the project intends to bring these modes of experience to visibility, foregrounding the affective modes of indebtedness, as well as the possibilities for affective strategies for the production of resistant subjectivities.