Mortgage durée: towards a politics ‘in construction’

On May 21, 2015 by Alberto

construccionJust heard back from my friend Morten Nielsen with the good news that a special issue he’s edited on Urban Times has been given the final go-ahead and will soon be published by Ethnos.

I wrote a piece on the ‘mortgage bubble’ based on some fieldwork I did in Madrid back in 2006 (pre-print available here). It took me a while to figure out how to write up such material. When the aftermath of the crisis put the question of ‘debt’ back on the table – with stellar contributions by David Graeber, David Harvey et al  – it occurred to me that there some distinctive about the ‘mortgaged condition’. I copy below an extract from the article which explains the ethnographic perspective that I follow in the article:

“Today the effects of the subprime mortgage crisis and the credit crunch are in everybody’s mind. The role of the crisis in shaping our contemporary vision of the ‘making of the indebted man’, as Maurizio Lazzarato forcefully put it (2012), has reinvigorated debates about the nature of debt as the archetypal social relation (Graeber 2011; High 2012), and about its role in the neoliberal backlash for political and economic austerity. Our moral consciousness as global political actors is in many respects still being shaped as an after-effect of the mortgage debacle.

In this article I want to take a slightly different route for exploring our debt economy. I focus on the case of mortgages, not to better understand the anthropology of debt and social relations, but as a point of entry into the larger cultural economy of the contemporary urban condition. I am interested in how our taking residence (often quite literally!) in a mortgage society inflects the cultural and material resources for thinking about politics today. It is not ‘indebted man’ that I place centre stage here, then, but a ‘mortgaged subject’. This subject is ‘in construction’, in the sense that it is shaped and moulded by the real estate and financial economy. But there is a second, more profound sense in which the condition of mortgage durée, of being ‘in construction’, plays out: one where the resources for political praxis obtain from the property and mortgaged condition of the city, a form that is in ruins today, but that in this ruinous circumstance, amidst the hubris, offers also the materials for critique and re-construction.”

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