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Debt to Society

Accounting for Life under Capitalism

2014
Author:

Miranda Joseph

Debt to Society

Reveals how credit, debt, and accounting shape and influence our lives

Miranda Joseph explores modes of accounting as they are used to create, sustain, or transform social relations. She exposes the uneven distribution of accountability within our society and demonstrates how ubiquitous the forces of accounting have become in shaping our lives, proposing that we appropriate accounting and offer alternative accounts to turn the present toward a more widely shared well-being.

Debt to Society provides an innovative and ambitious scholarly intervention across a wide swath of fields, with much fresh thinking and provocative reframing in every one. Miranda Joseph analyzes the diverse and conflicted neoliberal norm of entrepreneurial subjectivity, searching for and illuminating its possible breaking points.

Lisa Duggan, New York University

It is commonplace to say that criminals pay their debt to society by spending time in prison, but what is a “debt to society”? How is crime understood as a debt? How has time become the equivalent for crime? And how does criminal debt relate to the kind of debt held by consumers and university students?

In Debt to Society, Miranda Joseph explores modes of accounting as they are used to create, sustain, or transform social relations. Envisioning accounting broadly to include financial accounting, managerial accounting of costs and performance, and the calculation of “debts to society” owed by criminals, Joseph argues that accounting technologies have a powerful effect on social dynamics by attributing credits and debts. From sovereign bonds and securitized credit card debt to student debt and mortgages, there is no doubt that debt and accounting structure our lives.

Exploring central components of neoliberalism (and neoliberalism in crisis) from incarceration to personal finance and university management, Debt to Society exposes the uneven distribution of accountability within our society. Joseph demonstrates how ubiquitous the forces of accounting have become in shaping all aspects of our lives, proposing that we appropriate accounting and offer alternative accounts to turn the present toward a more widely shared well-being.

Debt to Society

Miranda Joseph is professor of gender and women’s studies at the University of Arizona. She is author of Against the Romance of Community (Minnesota, 2002).

Debt to Society

Debt to Society provides an innovative and ambitious scholarly intervention across a wide swath of fields, with much fresh thinking and provocative reframing in every one. Miranda Joseph analyzes the diverse and conflicted neoliberal norm of entrepreneurial subjectivity, searching for and illuminating its possible breaking points.

Lisa Duggan, New York University

I’ve been distressed by the increasing focus on debt as a central instrument of social control. Miranda Joseph offers a much richer reading of how debt is embedded in a larger system of social control via accounting. But this is no screed against accounting—it is instead a guide to thinking about how we use statistics and other forms of abstraction, and how we might rethink the practice to produce a better world. I learned a lot from it.

Doug Henwood editor, Left Business Observer

Joseph’s critique of the disciplinary force of accounting practices is an insightful and compelling discussion of heretofore neglected aspects of neoliberalism.

American Studies Journal

One of the many strengths of Joseph’s book is the artful and considered way in which she weaves her own experiences—as a researcher, university administrator, home-owner and citizen—into her theoretical analyses.

A Year’s Work in Critical and Cultural Theory

Debt to Society

Contents

Introduction: Modes of Accounting

1. Accounting for Debt: Toward a Methodology of Critical Abstraction
2. Accounting for Justice: Beyond Liberal Calculations of Debt and Crime
3. Accounting for Time: The Entrepreneurial Subject in Crisis
4. Accounting for Gender: Norms and Pathologies of Personal Finance
5. Accounting for Interdisciplinarity: Contesting Value in the Academy

Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index