Recapacitating the subjects of toxic debt: Personal loans and fintech consumer lending

Authors: Michael McCanless*, University of Kentucky
Topics: Economic Geography
Keywords: Financialization, fintech, capacity, financial citizenship, debt
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 47
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Responding to recent calls in financial geography to study the role of financial technologies (fintech) in reshaping global finance, this paper uses interviews with 14 borrowers to analyze the growing online U.S. consumer lending sector. Focusing in particular on personal loans which are largely used for debt consolidation, these personal loans differentially enable consumers to recover from accumulations of toxic credit card debt. Following Langley et al. (2019)’s study of indebted life and money culture in online payday lending in the UK, I trace the relations within financial products and their implications for the lives of indebted consumers. Drawing from disability studies I adapt Puar’s (2012) notion of “differential inclusion” to show how personal loans selectively engage fields of toxic debt to recapacitate/incapacitate financial citizenship for borrowers. This theoretical approach allows me to move beyond a reductive dynamic of inclusion/exclusion, and instead look at the ways in which financial products take on a life of their own when overlaid atop axes of difference. While borrowers regularly discussed fintech personal loans as a way of ‘getting back on track’, for those whom these recapacitating technologies failed, toxic debts were reaccumulated and feelings of indebtedness were intensified.

Citations: Langley, P., Anderson, B., Ash, J., & Gordon, R. (2019). Indebted life and money culture: Payday lending in the United Kingdom. Economy and Society. Puar, J. K. (2012). Coda: The Cost of Getting Better: Suicide, Sensation, Switchpoints. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies.

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