14th July 2014

Consuming Credit: Special Issue of Consumption Markets & Culture

‘Consuming Credit’, a new Special Issue of Consumption Markets & Culture, has just been published. The collection is edited by Paul Langley and is populated, in its entirety, by members of the Charisma network. It can be accessed here.

Here is an edited extract from Paul’s introduction to the issue in which he also recounts some of the origins of Charisma:

While making credit available to make consumption possible has a very long history indeed, it is the consolidated mass markets and cultures of contemporary consumer credit that provide the focus for this special issue. Contemporary consumer credit comes in a diverse variety of forms and product ranges. This includes, for example, instalment plans for the dedicated purchase of automobiles and “big ticket” items; unsecured loans of all shapes and sizes, such as short-term and small “pay-day” loans; and the bank overdrafts and “revolving” lines of credit on credit cards that do not have to be completely repaid at the end of each month. The interest rates payable on consumer credit diverge greatly within and across product markets and between consumers, and fluctuate over time. And, although significant social and geographical exclusions, inequalities and differentiations remain as consumer credit markets become more established and entrenched, credit for consumption is today more readily and widely available (at a price) to individuals, families and households.

This special issue of Consumption Markets & Culture (CMC) brings together four selected papers which were originally presented in draft form at the “Market Encounters” conference, organized by Liz McFall (Open University), Paul du Gay (Copenhagen Business School (CBS)), Joe Deville (Goldsmiths) and Christian Frankel (CBS) in March 2011. It also features a concluding commentary piece by Bill Maurer, who also participated in the conference. Funding for the conference was provided by a BritishAcademy conference grant, and additional support from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)-funded Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change and CBS. The conference inaugurated the research network “Charisma: consumer market studies”.

The premise for the special issue is that the present day consumption of consumer credit is, in and of itself, worthy of the kind of critical attention that it has yet to receive from social scientists. […] [C]onsumer credit consumption is relatively neglected by those extant literatures where one might expect to find it subjected to sustained interrogation; namely, the literatures covering consumption and retail and popular finance. For all the analysis that social scientists have produced of consumerism and credit, the consumption of consumer credit itself is rarely considered.

The articles collected here do not, however, simply “fill a gap” within the consumption and retail finance literatures. […] [W]hen the articles in this special issue are read together, they amount to more than the sum of their individual parts. The articles serve to mark out a trajectory for further research into what I will call, by way of shorthand, consuming credit. This is a research trajectory which has three principal and related arcs of interest. First, a call is made for explicit attention to be paid not only to the practices, models and techniques of lending, but to the marketing and sale of consumer credit. Second, an avenue is opened-up for inquiry into the ways in which the debt obligations of consumer credit are themselves being repositioned as a consumption problem to be addressed by individuals and institutions alike. Third, a cultural economy perspective is held out as providing and promising critical capacities for the understanding of consuming credit.

Special Issue: Consuming Credit

Consumption Markets & Culture, Vol. 17, No. 5, 03 Sep 2014 


Paul Langley: Consuming credit

This article provides an editorial introduction to the special issue of Consumption Markets & Culture devoted to the consolidated mass markets and cultures of contemporary consumer credit. It identifies a strange irony that arises from the extant social scientific literatures on consumption and retail finance: for all the analysis that they offer of consumerism and credit, the consumption of consumer credit itself is rarely considered. An overview is provided of how the articles in the special issue intersect with the sparse literature dedicated to consuming credit and personal financial consumption, and collectively signal new directions for study. It is suggested that, when read together, the articles mark out a trajectory for further research into consuming credit which has three principal and related arcs of interest: the marketing and sale of consumer credit; the repositioning of debt as a consumption problem; and the critical capacities of a cultural economy perspective.


José Ossandón: Sowing consumers in the garden of mass retailing in Chile

It is known that some key elements of modern consumer credit were originally developed in department stores. However, almost no attention has been given to new developments in this area. This paper studies the case of retail credit in Chile. Special attention is given to a particular technique known as “to sow” (or issuing small loans to risky consumers that are made to grow by carefully following and classifying purchase and debt behaviour), whose success has been enabled by the development of a wide quantitative datascape. Following the practice of “sowing” helps to understand not only how consumer credit is mediated by market devices, but how it practically works as a device of marketing on its own.

Paul Langley: Equipping entrepreneurs: consuming credit and credit scores

On-line products that make an individual’s credit score an object of consumption and equip credit consumers with the capacity to improve their score are shown to exemplify two sets of dynamic tendencies to change in mass market consumer credit. First, as credit consumers are differentiated, sorted and targeted by lenders according to credit scores, they are no longer merely disciplined as individual bodies responsible for making repayments. Rather, and after Deleuze, they are “controlled” through the risk-based prices that they pay as an array of disaggregated “dividuals.” Second, the credit consumer is summoned-up as an entrepreneurial subject, in the terms of Foucault, a rational and hopeful figure. The credit consumer now appears as a subject who not only anxiously meets repayments, but who seeks rewards from managing uncertainties over future access to credit at competitive rates by investing optimism in the very mechanisms of marketized control that govern credit relations.

Joe Deville: Consumer credit default and collections: the shifting ontologies of market attachment

Existing accounts of consumer credit market making have done much to explore the business models, technologies and advertising practices of lenders, and the financial circumstances of borrowers. However, the space of interface between consumer credit debtor and debt collector remains underexplored. Drawing on interviews with debtors and an exposition of debt collections technologies, the paper demonstrates how this market domain, in seeking to prompt calculative engagement, depends on its ability to intersect successfully with the everyday lives of economic agents. Critically engaging with key currents emerging out of the “economization” programme, it builds on its attention to the socio-material mechanisms of market making. However, the paper argues that materially sensitive economic sociologies need to account more thoroughly for the place of affect in markets. This is particularly relevant when studying consumer markets, where exchanges routinely centre on intimate and embodied encounters between economic actors.

Donncha Marron: “Informed, educated and more confident”: financial capability and the problematization of personal finance consumption

The focus of this paper is the concept of financial capability that has developed within Britain over the last 10 years as a means of problematizing personal finance consumption. It critically examines how authorities have come to delineate the problem of financial capability and how this has been located by them within a wider trajectory of social change and complexity. This is followed by an attempt that explain this emergent concern by positing it as a form of advanced liberal governmentality, while also seeking to trace the contributory role of economic ideas through the concept of virtualism. The paper then seeks to address the particular modality through which financial capability has become a known, measured and assessable attribute of individuals and populations. After outlining the government’s National Strategy for Financial Capability, we examine one case study programme within the context of youth work.

Bill Maurer: Postscript: is there money in credit?

The analytical and empirical shift from the study of the kinds of consumption facilitated by credit, to the processes and performances in consuming credit itself, opens up an array of questions for the social study of money and markets. Consuming credit relies on infrastructures of credit’s creation and transmission, which in turn leave data trails in their wake. Both the infrastructures and the data suggest new business models and pose challenges to social studies of financialization because of their decidedly non-market characteristics. Credit may be less about money, and may function less as money, than as a means to other ends of fee generation and data mining.