Hear the words “debt collection” and your mind turns to a host of unsavory characters: loan sharks, repossession men or thugs who show up seizing (or smashing) personal property in the name of an even greater-maligned figure, the creditor. Yet credit and debt collection are central economic and affective elements of modern economies and consumer-driven social life. In this unique and trenchant study, Joe Deville explains how the debt collection industry emerged, how it is evolving, and how it is ever more dependent on both data analytics and emotional labor, the two supplementing and amplifying one another far beyond the rational management of risk on which lending historically has depended. Deville illuminates the quotidian work of debt collection agencies and their tools—telephone scripts, collection letters—as well as the intra- and intercorporate and personal relations that make debt collection an affective as well as a political (and profitable) enterprise. The book is nothing less than a theoretically astute reflection on the character of obligation, the making of markets and the character of affect in the entanglements of debt today.
Dean of the School of Social Sciences and Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Irvine
Debt, it turns out, is not the only thing that is intimate and impersonal, cumulative and disintegrative, charged and discharged. By following out the ways that affect routes though the bodies of debtors and the modulating assemblages of debt collectors, Joe Deville offers a vivid account of consumer default that pulses with everyday intensities and calculative capturings. Immensely readable and deftly argued, Deville displays an astonishing agility for moving among the moods and modes of histories, case-studies, technologies, and theories at precisely the right moment, revealing what folds and unfolds at the fraught materialities of the economic and the affective.
Gregory J. Seigworth
Professor of Communication Studies, Millersville University
Lived Economies of Default is a striking achievement, essential reading for students and researchers in the social studies of finance, economic sociology and cultural economy. Not only does Deville provide the first book-length analysis of consumer debt collection in the UK for over forty years, he also charts a new course for the study of the materialities, affects and intimacies of contemporary market lives.
Reader in Economic Geography, Durham University
An incisive and timely analysis of the business of contemporary debt collection, in which repayment is not forced through bodily incarceration or the seizing of assets as in times past but, rather, coaxed through carefully calibrated psychological campaigns and the seizing of affects. Techniques and tools of escalating urgency work to ratchet up defaulters’ shame, anxiety, and dread and turn them into responsible borrowers. Lived Economies of Default is an empirically fascinating, ethnographically rich, theoretically sophisticated account of consumer-credit capitalism and its discontents.
Natasha Dow Schüll
Associate Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology