Making Debt

Occasion: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities, Vol. 7, November 2014

10 Pages Posted: 2 Jul 2015

See all articles by Miranda Joseph

Miranda Joseph

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

Date Written: November 6, 2014


A number of social theorists have argued that debt is now the determining economic and thus social relation, superseding relations of production or consumption as the socially formative economic dynamic. And debt plays a hegemonizing function. Credit and debt have been written into what I have elsewhere identified as the Romantic discourse of community, a discourse pervasive in the social science literature as well as in the popular imagination that situates community as the “other” of modernity and especially of capitalism, which is generally understood to destroy community. The most prominent contemporary inscription of debt into a discourse of community has been performed by David Graeber in his 2011 book Debt: The First 5,000 Years. However, his analysis of — and, I fear, his and others’ efforts to generate collective opposition to — our attachments to our debts is limited by the reaffirmation of a “myth,” according to which communal relations based on interpersonal trust are displaced by depersonalized calculation, and the particular is disrupted or destroyed by being abstracted. I argue, by contrast, that we must recognize and engage the dialectics of abstraction and particularization through which capitalism operates and through which we can gain a critical grasp of that operation.

Keywords: debt, credit, Graeber, abstraction, accounting, race

Suggested Citation

Joseph, Miranda, Making Debt (November 6, 2014). Occasion: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities, Vol. 7, November 2014, Available at SSRN:

Miranda Joseph (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities ( email )

420 Delaware St. SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

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