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Publication - Dr Samuel Kirwan

    The intimate spaces of debt

    Love, freedom and entanglement in indebted lives


    dawney, l, Kirwan, S & Walker, R, 2018, ‘The intimate spaces of debt: Love, freedom and entanglement in indebted lives’. Geoforum.


    In the context of a perfect storm of measures – welfare reform, precarious work, stagnating wages – increasing numbers of households find themselves in complex webs of debt. This paper addresses the lived experience of debt in the UK, tracing some affective contours of indebtedness that are often overlooked in debt research. Focusing on domestic settings and emotional routines, the paper explores how the everyday experience of indebted life seeps into relationships, frames life projects, and mediates hopes for one’s children.

    The paper argues that the affective architecture of debt operates just as much through moments of intensity – the letter of default, the pressure cooker of an advice session – as through a background hum in which individuals are engaged in ongoing practices of self-assessment, despair, desire and satisfaction. Drawing on in-depth interviews with indebted subjects, this paper investigates contemporary financial subjectivities through such forms of affective modulation that “run in the background”. In addition to those moments of intensity, it argues that indebted lives are composed through low-level affective states that include hypervigilance, dissociation and anxiety. It examines the deep entanglements of people, technologies and objects that produce these affective states, highlighting relations of obligation and codependency, and the forms of vigilance and anxiety these relations create. In doing so, the paper troubles understandings of debt as a binary relationship between creditor and debtor and argues for a perspective that considers the complex affective entanglements of indebted lives and the imbrication of indebtedness, financial subjectivity, love and care in the making of life projects.

    Full details in the University publications repository