The awkward struggle: A global overview of social conflicts against private debts

Julien François Gerber*, Tsegaye Moreda, C. Sathyamala

*Corresponding author for this work

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Over the past two decades, indebtedness has been at the centre of the world's attention, but social conflicts against private debts have only rarely been studied. Drawing on a global database of 65 cases ranging from 1765 to 2020, we offer a preliminary glimpse at such mobilisations. We find that anti-debt conflicts seem to have increased exponentially since the early 1980s and that they have involved different social classes with various political objectives, ranging from ‘populist’ to ‘revolutionary’, hence their multifaceted ‘awkward’ nature. Credit/debt relations are an underestimated root cause of many economic conflicts because of their foundational role in the (mis)workings of capitalism, their lasting consequences in terms of discipline and dispossession, and their potential to change one's class location, downwards or upwards. While the repression of anti-debt protests and the particular subjectivity associated with debt have often deterred mobilisations, we argue that the situation seems to be changing, as ever more people are discontented with the ‘debtfare state’ and the financialisation of everyday life, including that of farming.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)651-662
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Rural Studies
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The Independent Social Research Foundation (ISRF) is gratefully acknowledged, as well as the late David Graeber, for allowing one of us (J.-F. G.) to work on these and other questions in 2018-19 while visiting at the LSE Department of Anthropology.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors

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