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Borrowed Identities: Credit, Debt and Classificatory Struggles in Neoliberal Britain

Sparkes, Matthew (2015) Borrowed Identities: Credit, Debt and Classificatory Struggles in Neoliberal Britain. PhD thesis, University of York.

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This thesis unpacks the complex and interconnected relationships between credit and debt, specific techniques of government, and social class processes over time. The thesis is underpinned by a social ecological model: it operates horizontally across the credit and debt realms and vertically on three levels – the meta, the macro and the micro. Methodologically, the data are generated from archival databases, experiences drawn from working within a debt charity, and in-depth interviews with 21 individuals using the services of StepChange Debt Charity to help with their financial difficulties. The thesis starts by exploring how a cadre of free-marketers proposed a series of economic and social policies from the 1950s which aimed to configure a new form of governmentality. Drawing upon documents drawn from various archives, the thesis reveals how their ideas – the market, the consumer, and the pursuit of private property – all rely on unhindered credit to operate. The thesis subsequently examines identity formation within a social domain dominated by these ideas and awash with credit. Building a theoretical framework based on Pierre Bourdieu’s relational understandings of class and Anthony Giddens’ notion of ontological security, the thesis then draws on interview data to outline how the participants use credit to build identities in response to amplifying inequality. A consequence of this process for the participants is the accumulation of a large credit balance, and their fall-into-debt. Here the thesis changes track, beginning to explore the dominant forms of governmentality that structure the debt realm. Initially tracing how debt collection practices threaten the participants’ capital stocks, the thesis moves onto expose how the shame and fear these practices induce are not unintended but instead serve to transform identities. The thesis shows how neoliberals classify and stigmatise those who fall-into-debt as irresponsible and immoral debtors, and disseminate a discourse of individual financial responsibility, with the intention of normalising total debt repayment. The thesis draws upon the interview data to reveal how the participants come to internalise these discourses and reconstruct their lives to make sure they submit to it. This thesis argues the realms of credit and debt, the forms of governmentality engendered to support them, and the ‘classificatory struggles’ they induce, are arranged to provide enduring, maximised and protected profit streams to those who produce and distribute credit.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: neoliberalism; credit; class; Bourdieu; inequality; ontological security; class struggle; consumption; debt; stigma; ontological insecurity; identity
Academic Units: The University of York > Sociology (York)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.675118
Depositing User: Mr Matthew Sparkes
Date Deposited: 09 Dec 2015 16:13
Last Modified: 24 Jul 2018 15:21
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/11360

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