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Debt to Society

Debt to Society: Accounting for Life under Capitalism

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Debt to Society
    Book Description:

    It is commonplace to say that criminals pay their debt to society by spending time in prison, but what is a "debt to society"? How is crime understood as a debt? How has time become the equivalent for crime? And how does criminal debt relate to the kind of debt held by consumers and university students?

    InDebt to Society, Miranda Joseph explores modes of accounting as they are used to create, sustain, or transform social relations. Envisioning accounting broadly to include financial accounting, managerial accounting of costs and performance, and the calculation of "debts to society" owed by criminals, Joseph argues that accounting technologies have a powerful effect on social dynamics by attributing credits and debts. From sovereign bonds and securitized credit card debt to student debt and mortgages, there is no doubt that debt and accounting structure our lives.

    Exploring central components of neoliberalism (and neoliberalism in crisis) from incarceration to personal finance and university management,Debt to Societyexposes the uneven distribution of accountability within our society. Joseph demonstrates how ubiquitous the forces of accounting have become in shaping all aspects of our lives, proposing that we appropriate accounting and offer alternative accounts to turn the present toward a more widely shared well-being.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4159-2
    Subjects: Anthropology, Population Studies, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. INTRODUCTION Modes of Accounting
    (pp. ix-xxii)

    This excerpt from a front-pageNew York Timesarticle is but one of many bits of evidence of the penetration of credit and debt into our contemporary popular culture that I might have plucked from the day’s media flow. Social theorists have argued that debt is nowthedetermining economic and thus social relation, superseding relations of production or consumption as the socially formative economic dynamic. Maurizio Lazzarato’s recent bookThe Making of the Indebted Man(2012, 90, 89) draws on Gilles Deleuze, “who summed up the transition from disciplinary governance to contemporary neoliberalism in this way: ‘A man is...

  4. 1 ACCOUNTING FOR DEBT: Toward a Methodology of Critical Abstraction
    (pp. 1-28)

    The efforts of the Occupy Wall Street spin-off Strike Debt to incite collective disidentification with financial debts are inspiring and often brilliant. Strike Debt is premised on the primacy of debt, rather than labor or consumption, to the contemporary economy: “As individuals, families, and communities, most of us are drowning in debt for the basic things we need to live, including housing, education, and health care.”¹ Part of the brilliance of the “You are not a loan” slogan is that it crystalizes, even as it rejects, that the 99 percent, those whose American Dream has become nightmare, whose aspirations and...

  5. 2 ACCOUNTING FOR JUSTICE: Beyond Liberal Calculations of Debt and Crime
    (pp. 29-60)

    What is the relation of accounting to justice? Derrida’s essay “Force of Law” (1992) explores the relation between law and justice. Derrida argues that law is the site of force, “always an authorized force, a force that justifies itself or is justified in applying itself” (5). “Justice” exceeds the law, depending on a “decision” that cannot be fully guided or guaranteed by application of the law. Law is inhabited by force not only because it is organized to serve “the economic and politinterests of the dominant forces of society,” Derrida argues, but also because “the founding and justifying moment that...

  6. 3 ACCOUNTING FOR TIME: The Entrepreneurial Subject in Crisis
    (pp. 61-90)

    In her important essay “Slow Death,” Lauren Berlant (2007b, 754) wants to help us conceptualize “contemporary historical experience . . . where life building and the attrition of human life are indistinguishable; and where it is hard to distinguish modes of incoherence, distractedness, and habituation from deliberate and deliberative activity, as they are all involved in the reproduction of predictable life.” She develops the concept of “practical sovereignty” to describe constrained agency as it is mediated by “zoning, labor, consumption and governmentality” but also “unconscious and explicit desiresnotto be an inflated ego deploying and manifesting power” (757). By...

  7. 4 ACCOUNTING FOR GENDER: Norms and Pathologies of Personal Finance
    (pp. 91-118)

    Students at my university offered the following comments during focus groups I helped to facilitate on the topic of personal financial attitudes and behaviors:¹

    I trust my mother [for advice on financial issues]. My dad likes to think he built the business on his own, but my mom, she saved all the money; my father says here’s $50 for the day and she says here’s $5 for the month. (10/12/09, #3)

    I’m a shopaholic, so it hurts my heart to just see money sitting away. My mom says I have a huge problem. . . . My mom is very...

  8. 5 ACCOUNTING FOR INTERDISCIPLINARITY: Contesting Value in the Academy
    (pp. 119-150)

    This chapter was originally written during my service as chair of the University of Arizona Strategic Planning and Budget Advisory Committee (SPBAC). A “shared governance” committee, including vice presidents, deans, staff, academic professionals, and student leaders as well as faculty (a majority of voting members), SPBAC is responsible for participating in institutional governance, primarily through the annual crafting of the five-year strategic plan, but also by providing budget advice, which generally means advice on how to handle relentless budget cuts.¹ Identifying performance measures for both internal and external accountability is a routine part of the strategic planning process; in relation...

    (pp. 151-154)
  10. NOTES
    (pp. 155-170)
    (pp. 171-188)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 189-218)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 219-219)