Democracy of Credit: Ownership and the Politics of Credit Access in Late-Twentieth Century America

Friday, June 24, 2016: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
183 Dwinelle (Dwinelle Hall)
Greta Krippner, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
In recent years, sociologists have noted the increasing centrality of credit for determining life chances in our society, but they have not given adequate attention to the credit market as a key site where individuals assert claims over economic resources. This paper examines distinctive features of the credit transaction that differentiate claimsmaking in the credit market from more familiar forms of claimsmaking based in the labor market.

As a transaction that necessarily extends through time, creditors are uniquely exposed to the risk of loss, and they respond to this risk by intensively gathering information on potential borrowers and also by seeking to collateralize loans. I argue that creditors’ dual strategies to avoid losses condition the kinds of claims that movements seeking access to credit can make. Drawing on feminist credit mobilization and community activism against redlining as comparison cases, I find that where individuals seeking access to credit are subject to creditors’ attempts to gather information on borrower characteristics – especially through the use of credit scores – claimants tacitly accept creditors’ own metrics of worth, reinforcing the inequality of the credit relationship. To the extent that creditors rely on collateral to secure loans, however, borrowers are potentially positioned as “owners” and may be able to overcome some of the disadvantages associated with occupying the weaker position in an unequal relationship of exchange. In fact, it is the capacity of borrowers to anchor their demands in claims of ownership that differentiates the politics of credit from other kinds of claimsmaking, and helps to explain when attempts to broaden access to credit are most likely to be successful.