Lived Economies of Default: Consumer Credit, Debt Collection and the Capture of Affect, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Lived Economies of Default

Consumer Credit, Debt Collection and the Capture of Affect, 1st Edition

By Joe Deville


212 pages | 12 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2015-02-11
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Consumer credit borrowing – using credit cards, store cards and personal loans – is an important and routine part of many of our lives. But what happens when these everyday forms of borrowing go ‘bad’, when people start to default on their loans and when they cannot, or will not, repay? It is this poorly understood, controversial, but central part of both the consumer credit industry and the lived experiences of an increasing number of people that this book explores.

Drawing on research from the interior of the debt collections industry, as well as debtors' own accounts and historical research into technologies of lending and collection, it examines precisely how this ever more sophisticated, globally connected market functions. It focuses on the highly intimate techniques used to try and recoup defaulting debts from borrowers, as well as on the collection industry’s relationship with lenders. Joe Deville follows a journey of default, from debtors’ borrowing practices, to the intrusion of collections technologies into their homes and everyday lives, to the collections organisation, to attempts by debtors to seek outside help. In the process he shows how to understand this particular market, we need to understand the central role played within it by emotion and affect. 

By opening up for scrutiny an area of the economy which is often hidden from view, this book makes a major contribution both to understanding the relationship between emotion and calculation in markets and the role of consumer credit in our societies and economies. This book will be of interest to students, teachers and researchers in a range of fields, including sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, economics and social psychology.


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. 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.

Bill Maurer, 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.

Paul Langley, 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

Lived Economies of Default provides more than a highly engaging and insightful analysis of the dark sustenance of the ecology of late capitalism. Because of the attention to the mundane and living economies that sustain it, this book also illuminates some of the paradoxes inherent in them that authors more prone to grand epochal claims about the culture and subjectivity of neoliberal capitalism might easily miss.

Martin Savransky, University College London, Science as Culture

Table of Contents

Introduction: Lived economies of default 1. ‘A Curious and Sort of Subconscious Temptation’: The lure of consumer credit 2. In the Fold of Default: Living with market attachments 3. The Discovery and Capture of Affect: A history of debt collection 4. The Strategic Management of Affect: Venturing inside the collections company 5. The Amplification of Calculative Opacity: The creditor, the collector, the collections letter Conclusion: Bringing affect to markets

About the Author

Joe Deville is a researcher at Goldsmiths, University of London, based jointly at the Centre for the Study of Invention and Social Process and the Political Economy Research Centre. He is also the co-founder of the Charisma research network and an editor at Journal of Cultural Economy.

About the Series


Culture, Economy and the Social

This series establishes the importance of innovative contemporary, comparative and historical work on the relations between social, cultural and economic change. It publishes empirically-based research that is theoretically informed, that critically examines the ways in which social, cultural and economic change is framed and made visible, and that is attentive to perspectives that tend to be ignored or side-lined by grand theorising or epochal accounts of social change. The series addresses the diverse manifestations of contemporary capitalism, and considers the various ways in which the `social', `the cultural' and `the economic' are apprehended as tangible sites of value and practice. It is explicitly comparative, publishing books that work across disciplinary perspectives, cross-culturally, or across different historical periods.

We are particularly focused on publishing books in the following areas that fit with the broad remit of the series:

  • Cultural consumption
  • Cultural economy
  • Cities and urban change
  • Materiality, sociality and the post-human
  • Culture and media industries
  • Culture and governance
  • Emerging forms of cultural and economic practice

The series is actively engaged in the analysis of the different theoretical traditions that have contributed to critiques of the `cultural turn'. We are particularly interested in perspectives that engage with Bourdieu, Foucauldian approaches to knowledge and cultural practices, Actor-network approaches, and with those that are associated with issues arising from Deleuze's work around complexity, affect or topology. The series is equally concerned to explore the new agendas emerging from current critiques of the cultural turn: those associated with the descriptive turn for example. Our commitment to interdisciplinarity thus aims at enriching theoretical and methodological discussion, building awareness of the common ground has emerged in the past decade, and thinking through what is at stake in those approaches that resist integration to a common analytical model.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Consumer Behavior
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Personal Finance / General
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General

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