Informal Debts and Credits or How Financialization of Everyday Life Maintains Inequality

Saturday, 4 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
CLM.2.06 (Clement House)
Ana Perrin-Heredia, CNRS, Paris, France
In France, the influence of finance on the everyday life is intense and seems now ordinary (Lazarus, 2012). However, there remain interstices that are beyond finance institutionalisation without falling foul of the law. It’s those economic areas – informal but legal – that this communication will study. The analysis of the way these areas really work both underlines, in the negative, norms, implicit and socially situated, that are structuring domestic finance, and reveals some inequalities that they contribute to (re)producing.

This research is based on a fieldwork in a low income neighbourhood in a French medium town that aimed at studying how household budgets and consumption habits are organised and thought of in practical terms by the working class. Its purpose was to socialise domestic economies and understand the social conditions of possibility in which rationality unfolds (Bourdieu, 2000).

Within the area studied, a specific group was investigated: Muslim women attending the local mosque. Many observations in the local mosque were performed and different players of this economic network were interviewed, which helped establish the role they were playing as well as the structural and symbolic position they held within this network. It then appeared that the specificities of their economic behaviour – as the heavy ‘marking’ of some resources (Zelizer, 1994), the setting aside of a large part of their income (Roig, 2009) or their rejection of bank loans – could not be construed independently of the representations of the economic world they mobilise, heavily tinted with religious beliefs. However, despite their strong economic skills (de Certeau, 1990; Hoggart, 2009), occasionally they are forced to seek forms of deferred payment. So, because of their economic situation, of their religious beliefs, and the lack of Muslim banks in this French medium town, a local economic network of informal loans seems to have sprung up to resolve this contradiction. Some women “lend” cash amounts to others without any apparent material gain. Even so, these non-banking loans have a number of elements in common with a conventional credit relationship between banker and client, particularly in regard to the criteria used by the banker to assess client (Lazarus, 2012).

Nevertheless, because these are undoubtedly based on interpersonal relations and because these introduce something else than money in repayment, non-banking loans are often thought to have more to do with the debt of “archaic societies” (Mauss, 2007) than with the credit of “contemporary societies”. Thus, and this is the aim of this communication, it would probably be tackling the issue of credit with a certain class ethnocentrism if we only looked at it the way it is today institutionally defined and framed (Fontaine, 2008), which could lead to consider the working-class economic practices exclusively in terms of lack (Grignon, Passeron, 1989). The way we define these economic interstices, outside of market economy and daily finance, can increase the economic domination that the poorest suffer by participating in the relegation of these practices – dictated by constraint – to the margins of society.