Studies of the hopes that accompany personal debt have highlighted the aspirations it generates for upward mobility. Yet working-class debtors living on a housing estate in southern England expressed little faith that their socio-economic situation could improve. The optimism accompanying their indebtedness was of avoiding legal enforcement despite being behind with repayments. This optimism involved a spatial politics of debt, where debtors expelled threats of enforcement from their immediate sensory environment. Home entertainment was another key source of repose for my interlocutors. The suspension of disbelief required for entertaining the on-screen fictions of video games and films relied on setting a scene free from distractions. Likewise, debtors’ capacity to believe in the possibility of avoiding enforcement relied on crafting a sensory environment for their optimism, by focusing on desired sensory stimuli like their home, family and possessions and putting the portents of dispossession out of sight. Accordingly, I identify “mise en scène” as a description of over-indebted optimism. In spatial terms, it involved re-asserting conventional Euclidean space in the face of creditors’ topological power-plays. Its scenic quality derived from “make-believe” practices that could bring into being the possibility they simulated: debtors acted as if, by hanging up the phone on creditors and leaving their letters unopened, it were possible to stop enforcement from happening. Highlighting the spatial basis of over-indebted optimism, these scenes were spaces in which debtors could undertake a political struggle over the possibility or impossibility of avoiding enforcement.
- SPS Centre for the Study of Poverty and Social Justice
- The UK