Ordinary democracy : reading resistances to debt after the global financial crisis with Stanley Cavell’s ordinary language philosophy.

Lauren Tooker

Supervisor(s)/Advisor:    Nahavandi, Firouzeh ; Rethel, Lena ; Watson, Matthew

This thesis examines resistances to debt in the aftermath of the global financial crisis in the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) in order to develop a novel account of democratic subjectivity for International Political Economy (IPE) based on Stanley Cavell’s ordinary language philosophy. The global financial crisis has transformed debt into a topic of heated public debate, giving rise to new social movements as well as individual political resistances. However, IPE scholars have yet to substantively conceptualise this new democratic politics of debt, despite considerable research on the problems of debt-based models of economic citizenship. I trace this blind spot to the pictures of agency animating the field, before developing a novel conceptual account of democratic subjectivity in finance based on an original application of Stanley Cavell’s ordinary language philosophy in IPE. I then use this account to show how ordinary democratic subjects are opposing debt-based economic citizenship in the UK and the US. To this end, I offer a comparative examination of three prominent tactics of debt resistance: avoiding debt, auditing debt, and refusing debt. I explore the first tactic, avoiding debt, by analysing popular debt-free living manuals and autobiographies. I study the second tactic, auditing debt, through participant observation with a London-based activist group called Debt Resistance UK. I examine the third tactic, refusing debt, based on interviews with Strike Debt, a US movement that has used peer-to-peer debt cancellation to incite debt refusal. My central argument is that although contemporary debt resistances are marked by conventional cultural-economic imaginaries, such as financial capability, transparency, and liability, debt’s ‘ordinary democrats’ are reconstructing debt relations as a site of democratic selfhood and community in finance. In an era marked by an increasingly top-down, managerial politics of finance, I conclude, people’s resistances to debt represent important practices of civic freedom that improve the prospects for democratic financial governance.

Link: here

This project receives funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Grant Agreement No 722826.