Attachment

Lived Economies of Default is about the relations of credit default. That is to say, how exactly the various actors (including both people and things) that make up the various encounters between borrower and lender, defaulter and collector, are related and made to relate to one another. This interest is gathered together in the focus on processes of ‘attachment’ and ‘detachment’.

In describing these processes, these movements, I draw influences from a variety of sources. One is the economisation approach to the study of economic life, which has focused on the processes involved in securing (or destabilising) the attachment of people to markets — market attachment, in other words. However sometimes I find the way that attachment is described in this work a little too .. neat. That is to say, it rarely comes close to accounting for the intimate registers of attachment that can readily be found in markets as soon as you start to look (and of course it depends where you look).

For that reason, I draw on both on the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze (in particular his description of processes of ‘folding’) and accounts of attachment influenced in particular by feminist theory, which have succeeded in providing a theoretical repertoire well suited to describing forms of bodily attachment (which is absolutely central to processes of debt collection – see here).

It is Chapter 2 that I try to do the work of bringing some of these different approaches to the study of attachment together, to set the scene for the analysis that follows. Here’s just a brief extract (without the footnotes):

I thus want to make a case for an economic sociology that is sensitive to the social and material formatting not only of market settings but also people’s lives. People—how they live, feel and act—matter as much to markets as markets do to people. However much I am drawn to the economisation programme for its ability to account for the consequential effects of potentially quite intimate, quite mundane things, devices and processes in markets, the intimate formatting of life has been bracketed from many of its accounts.

One of the reasons for this—and here there is an echo of Miller’s critique, although the object of my discomfort is slightly different to his—is a sometimes overly instrumental account of processes of attachment. A closer attention needs to be paid to how process and devices that are explicitly designed to compose and recompose the connections between market actors—for sake of simplicity, what I will continue to refer to as ‘market attachments’—intersect with and are composed and are recomposed by the range of other attachments that compose life. Following the precise ways in which markets knit into the fabric of everyday life will enabler a thicker account of the production of the present which, as Lauren Berlant calls for, may help open up what she calls “impasses of the political” (see the citation at the top of this chapter). One such impasse is how to account, analytically, for the relationship between people and markets—as the debate between Callon and Miller demonstrates, this remains an open question, one sitting within a far longer history of disagreement about how the social and the economic are interrelated.

It is to Berlant, and to a number of other writers who draw on currents within feminist and queer theory, to whom I look to try to develop a more nuanced understanding of lived and ambivalent quality of processes of attachment. Building on earlier theoretical work undertaken by Judith Butler (1997), Berlant (2006; 2011) attends to attachments characterised by what she calls a ‘cruel optimism’: these can be characterised as oriented around a relationship of desire towards an object (‘the good life’, for instance, or a particular political project) that ultimately engenders a relationship of harm towards the desiring person. These are attachments that bind a person to a particular condition of life, not just despite the harm involved, but often because of it. In Berlant, as in Butler,attachment is not just a way to describe generic movements of connection and disconnection, but a particular kind of movement, concerned with often only partially conscious desires and drives, with emotion, and with the ways in which bodies are push and pulled in one direction or another. These are, then, attachments that are analysed as they operate through affect.

Attending to attachments that operate through the bodily and the affective is to shift the registers through which to understand the encounters between people and markets. Berlant does some of this work herself in her analysis of a variety of market-influenced settings—including those affected by relations of debt, as well as (amongst others) relations of consumption and labour—and, in the process, succeeds in capturing the visceral, often painful, and differentially distributed bodily attachments that can compose contemporary economies, such as the fatigue and ‘slow death’ of low income workers’ bodies (Berlant 2011, pp.95–119). Within the economisation programme, these might be accounted for as ‘overflows’ of the market—drawing on its actor-network theory heritage, the task then becomes to analyse how and whether or not these overflows achieve the status of a political ‘object of concern’ (see: Callon 1998a). While this might be an interesting project in its own right, Berlant is more interested in how exactly bodies are shaped by their intersection with the processes and forms of violence that characterise key aspects of many contemporary economies.

This set of work can also contribute towards an analysis of the precise manner in which bodies become shaped and formatted through processes of market attachment. Sara Ahmed makes the processual character of attachment absolutely clear, which she characterises in terms of movement:

What moves us, what makes us feel, is also that which holds us in place, or gives us a dwelling place. Hence movement does not cut the body off from the ‘where’ of its inhabitance, but connects bodies to other bodies: attachment takes place through movement, through being moved by the proximity of others. (Ahmed 2004, p.17).

Attachments are constituted and reconstituted in the very instance of movement: in those moments, those situations, when an encounter between a person and another person, or a person and a particular setting, change the relationships that are in play between them. With respect to bodies, Ahmed argues that these movements, these shifts, occur through occasions of felt, bodily intensification. She gives an example:

say I stub my toe on the table. The impression of the table is one of negation; it leaves its trace on the surface of my skin and I respond with the appropriate ‘ouch’ and move away, swearing. It is through such painful encounters between this body and other objects, including other bodies, that ‘surfaces’ are felt as ‘being there’ in the first place. (p. 24).

Pain, the feeling at issue here, is thus a vector of intensification, which has the effect of bringing body boundaries, bodily ‘surfaces’ into the domain of human experience. In the example she gives, this occurs as a dynamic relation between a body part—a toe—and a particular object—a table. This painful intensification leads, in turn, to a reconfiguration of body to world, “the reorientation of the bodily relation to that which gets attributed as the cause of the pain” (ibid.). Human feelings, as something that might be assumed to be personal and ‘internal’ and private, are, Ahmed suggests, always relational. It is this relational aspect of life that provides the conditions for processes of connection and disconnection, attachment or, indeed, detachment (although Ahmed doesn’t refer explicitly to the latter). There is a movement away from the table, an immediate spatial detachment, a redrawing of the boundary between entities, but at the same time there is a new attachment generated: a memory that will, it might be hoped, prevent such incidents in the future.

Ahmed’s particular interest is in what these process of bodily reconstitution and attachment reveal about the social interactions between (human) bodies. However, as her toe-stubbing makes clear, this process can equally occur between bodies and things. With this in mind, I would like to bring Ahmed’s work and her account of attachment into dialogue with another way of describing how the surfaces of bodies come to be formed and reformed through movement and that is as related to processes of enfolding and unfolding.

 

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