Money from nothing: popular economies and indebtedness in South Africa

This project explores the over-indebtedness of South African consumers, set against the longer history of exploitation of South African black people by the forces of capitalism, and interrogates how these currently manifest themselves in an allegedly ‘neoliberal’ social order.  With upward mobility much aspired-to but seldom attained, householders must spend money they have not yet earned. Requesting credit both from formal institutions and from moneylenders and financial mutuals positions them uneasily. In order to disconnect/disembed themselves from dependents in one register, they acquire intensified obligations in another. The value sought is based on models of class distinction and “respectability”, yet its seekers, becoming indebted, often spiral into economic crisis. The project challenges binaries of political/moral economy, and formal/informal economy, by exploring the interface between community, market and the state. It will investigate the way that informalization intensifies as all manner of means are devised to tap into state resources; and how neoliberal means are used to ensure redistributive ends.

Project leader(s):
  • Deborah James (London School of Economics)

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