Constructing Geographies of Student Debt: Assumptions, Actors, and Institutions

Authors: Denise Goerisch*, Grand Valley State University
Topics: Cultural Geography, United States, Social Geography
Keywords: debt, university, college, loans, students
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Iris, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper examines the university as a key space for producing indebted subjects and the broader debt economy of the United States. Given recent political debates concerning college affordability, the college debt-free movement, and continued neoliberalization of public higher education, the university is an imperative site for understanding the spatial politics of debt in the United States. For many students, college is conceived as a space in which to improve upon one’s position in life but ever-increasing costs force many students to obtain loans to pay for their education. Furthermore, campaigns such as 'Live like a college student’ promote a particular, yet problematic lifestyle that students should embody within the vacuum of the college campus, as well as defining college success in neoliberal and capitalist terms. However, students’ engagement with debt is not solely confined to the space of the university. Rather, students’ relationships with debt are often produced, governed, and lived through other key spaces and actors such as the federal and state government, local economies, and perhaps most significantly, the students’ families and homes. Despite the multiple contributors to students’ experiences with indebtedness, universities construct a narrative of debt and indebtedness that often do not align with students’ realities. Based upon ethnographic fieldwork at an American Midwest university, I argue that universities are not simply containers for indebted individuals but rather key spaces in which debt becomes embedded in the totality of students’ lives in ways that both perpetuate and deviate from neoliberal conceptions of the college experience.

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