Debt As a Heterogeneously Constituted Relationship: Payment and Collection at the Household Level

Monday, 11 July 2016: 14:57
Location: Hörsaal II (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Elias STORMS, University of Antwerp, Belgium
Debt and indebtedness appear both at the heart of economic activity (as the complement to credit) and at its fringes (as the inability to meet payments). Aside from economic definitions, at the household level debt is experienced most tangibly at the moment of collection. Surprisingly, however, sociology has largely neglected how debt as a social relationship manifests itself in the everyday lives of people through the process of collection.

This paper provides a theoretically driven engagement of empirical observations concerning debt, indebtedness and collection. It builds on material gathered while researching indebtedness and debt collection in Belgium, focussing on both collection agencies and bailiffs. Theoretically, this paper takes the 'economization framework' (as developed by Michel Callon & Koray Çalışkan) as a starting point in an attempt to understand how debt collection is constituted through a network in which a variety of 'heterogeneous elements' is involved. Material and technical devices, knowledge (both scholarly and lay), legal documents and contractual stipulations are some of the elements that play a constitutive role in the establishment of debt as a social relationship.

Pertinent to the topic of the panel, this paper argues that we should broaden our theoretical scope and include not only economic aspects, but also textual, interpersonal and especially legal dimensions if we wish to understand debt as a social relationship. By approaching debt in this manner, this paper has two aims. First, it hopes to further theoretical sociological understanding of debt as a prominent aspect of everyday economic life. Second, and equally important, through the case of debt collection, it aims to explore how 'the economic' is constituted through a variety of elements from different social spheres.