“Deeper into a hole?” : borrowing and lending in South Africa

James, Deborah (2014-08)

CITATION: James, D. 2014. “Deeper into a hole?” : borrowing and lending in South Africa. Current Anthropology, 55(S9):S17-S29, doi:10.1086/676123.

The original publication is available at http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/toc/ca/current


In South Africa, with upward mobility much aspired to but seldom attained, householders must spend money they have not yet earned. Borrowing both from formal institutions and smaller moneylenders (legal and illegal) positions them uneasily: in order to fulfill social requirements in one register, they acquire intensified obligations in another. Moneylending and money borrowing, owing much to the legacies of “credit apartheid,” involve an uneven mix. Embeddedness and community connection enable flexibility, juggling, and temporary escape from repayment obligations on the one hand, but systems of repayment and ever-newer technologies enable creditors to pursue debtors with inexorable swiftness on the other. Given that credit postapartheid has an increasingly formal, uniform, and financialized character, the second of these—which makes debtors get “deeper into a hole”—is becoming a predominant way of experiencing and representing the situation. The phrase, with its suggestion of entrapment, captures an important aspect of the deeply ambivalent feelings that borrowers experience in the face of debt.

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