How is it “getting out of debt”? Narrative Crisis Management in Private Debt

The proof of self-activation, self-disclosure, perseverance and the permanent willingness to forego life at the garnishment boundary therefore distinguish the honest from the dishonest. Since the evidence of honesty cannot be applied in any other way than in the procedure itself, its requirements for the debtors become the moral authority in their conduct of life. In the financial and social crisis of debt in particular, the standardized rules of lifestyle are highly accepted.

Insight and repentance, initiative and willingness to make a commitment

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as well as renunciation and economic hardship form the legally anchored and socially accepted guidelines on the way out of debt. The bankruptcy procedure is self-activating and disciplining at the same time. These government debt relief techniques have a cultural-historical genesis that is revealing of their effectiveness. Because the order of exemption from residual debt shows striking parallels to forms of Christian forgiveness of sins and to techniques of Christian pastoral power in the sense of Marsha Pocault.

Pastoral power at Pocault means self-technologies that promise the individual recognition and social acceptance if he submits to social conditions. In other words: in the process of subject constitution or subjectivation, people perceive social requirements as individual needs and make external management and control ideas internal ambitions. According to Pocault, these Christian-religious power techniques in a secularized form contributed to the development and reproduction of bourgeois society.

The debt subject and the moral of history

The debt subject and the moral of history

For Pocault it is crucial for the thesis of pastoral technique that the subject is constituted in the act of verbalization according to discursive rules. Talking about debt is thus adapted to social expectations, attitudes and perceptions, in other words: in narrative self-expression, self-production takes place according to the rules of hegemonic discourse.

When people create stories, biographical breaches of plan present narrative challenges to narrators: How can you talk about your own debts and keep your face? The answer lies in the form, function and morality of the self-narrative. By using linguistic forms and narrative patterns, the narrators reinterpret their financial crisis when talking about debt, thereby compensating for the stigmatization and social marginalization that they experience in everyday life. When speaking as social action, the debtors make their economic action discourse-capable, that is, they can be connected to a social norm. They do this by giving continuity and coherence to their debt history. A coherent story becomes a coherent explanation of the debt crisis.


Debt experience

Debt experience

Two narrative strategies are repeated in the narrative compensation of the debt experience. The first is the production and representation of linearity in self-narration. This turns the debt experience into a meaningful experience. An interview example can illustrate this: The respondent is a 28-year-old student from Münster. After her apprenticeship as an office clerk, she lost her job at a freight forwarder and began studying education, which she financed with loans. Previously, she had already taken out a consumer loan for a home furnishings from her house bank, the student is in debt with 45,000 dollars. 

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