Peer-reviewed articles

Contents


Debt and the Politics of Numbers: Hegemonic Numbers, Political Numbers, Ordinary Numbers

—I. Guérin, G. Venkatasubramanian.

Review of Political Economy, 36(2), 481–499, (2024).
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Numbers are both shaped by and constitutive of a certain vision of the world, and household debt is no exception. Financialized capitalism relies on hegemonic numbers that serve the economic and political interests of state government and the financial industry, which see and measure debt as a market ripe for development. In the face of this, it is crucial to build alternative numbers. The political numbers of debt conceive debt as a power relation, and quantify the degrees of financial exploitation that hegemonic numbers are blind to. Ordinary numbers seek to reflect what matters the most to ordinary people. They conceive of debt as a relationship of social interdependence, which can be a source of power, hierarchy and exploitation, but also of mutual aid, reciprocity and dignity. Far from functioning in silos, hegemonic numbers, political numbers and ordinary numbers have shifting boundaries. This article, based on twenty years of research in India conducted by a Franco-Indian team of economists and anthropologists, exposes and contributes to the politics of numbers in the field of debt.

Cite as:
Guérin, I., & Venkatasubramanian, G. (2024). Debt and the Politics of Numbers: Hegemonic Numbers, Political Numbers, Ordinary Numbers. Review of Political Economy. https://doi.org/10.1080/09538259.2024.2318959


Locus of control, social identity and indebtedness in South India

—A. Natal, C. J. Nordman.

Revue d’Économie du Développement, 31(2-3), 95–101, (2022).
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Using original data on 1635 individuals in rural South India, we analyse the correlation between debt, locus of control (LOC) and social identity(gender and caste) of borrowers. While LOC is correlated with debt negotiation, we find that the relationship is strongest for non-dalits (middle and upper castes) men. This result suggests that a more internal LOC is an additional advantage in negotiation for individuals with an already favourable social position.

Cite as:
Natal, A., & Nordman, C. J. (2022). Locus de contrôle, identité sociale et endettement en Inde du Sud. Revue d’Économie du Développement, 31(2-3), 95–101. https://doi.org/10.3917/edd.362.0095


With a Little Help From My Friends? Surviving the Lockdown Using Social Networks in Rural South India

—I. Guérin, C. J. Nordman, C. Mouchel.

South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal, 29(8309), 1–49, (2022).
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How have rural populations in India mobilised their social networks in times of forced “social distancing”? Focusing on a rural region in Tamil Nadu, mixing Social Network Analysis, descriptive statistics and qualitative interviews conducted before the lockdown, during the lockdown and its aftermath, this paper shows that kinship ties and caste-based relationships are still used as inescapable economic resources, especially when it comes to survive in this unprecedented worldwide economic and social crisis. The region under study has undergone profound changes in recent decades, combining the disappearance of agrarian forms of dependency and the emergence of economic solidarity among the lower castes (measured here in terms of homophily). The crisis is putting these social networks to the test. Subsidised food, the only pro-poor measure of the Indian government, prevented famine, even if it did not prevent severe malnutrition. Although strong ties (kin and caste solidarity) played a key role in helping households to survive, they did not prevent the resurgence of old forms of patronage.

Cite as:
Guérin, I., Nordman, C. J., & Mouchel, C. (2022). With a Little Help From My Friends? Surviving the Lockdown Using Social Networks in Rural South India. South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal, 29(8309), 1–49. https://doi.org/10.4000/samaj.8309


Surviving Debt and Survival Debt in Times of Lockdown

—I. Guérin, S. Michiels, A. Natal, C. J. Nordman, G. Venkatasubramanian.

Economic & Political Weekly, LVII(1), 41–49, (2022).
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What are the consequences of the COVID-19 lockdown on household debt? Drawing on quantitative and qualitative data collected in rural Tamil Nadu, this paper highlights the massive risks of financial fragility. Quantitative data show a very high level of pre-COVID-19 debt, and the lockdown was accompanied by a large-scale suspension of repayments. At the same time, there was a halt to unsecured debt and an erosion of the trust that cements most transactions. Last, but not the least, the emergence of new forms of secured debt that seriously threaten household assets was observed.

Cite as:
Guérin, I., Michiels, S., Natal, A., Nordman, C. J., & Venkatasubramanian, G. (2022). Surviving Debt and Survival Debt in Times of Lockdown. Economic & Political Weekly, 57(1), 41–49.


Many Rivers to Cross: Social Identity, Cognition, and Labor Mobility in Rural India

—S. Michiels, C. J. Nordman, S. Seetahul.

The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 697(1), 66–80, (2021).
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This study analyzes whether individual skills and personality traits facilitate labor market mobility of disadvantaged groups and rural migrants. We use a panel dataset of individuals in rural South India to explore the relationship between individual cognitive skills, personality traits, and income mobility. We take advantage of intragroup heterogeneity in terms of cognitive skills and personality traits to examine whether these personal characteristics enable individuals to overcome rigid social structures, exploring the role of these skills and traits in migrants’ income mobility. We show that despite strong rigidity in the area’s labor market structure, personality traits are important determinants of labor mobility, enabling individuals to overcome caste and gender discrimination, but that these personality traits do not contribute to increases in migrants’ income mobility.

Cite as:
Michiels, S., Nordman, C. J., & Seetahul, S. (2021). Many Rivers to Cross: Social Identity, Cognition, and Labor Mobility in Rural India. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 697(1), 66–80. https://doi.org/10.1177/00027162211055990

(Open access version: IZA DP No. 14807)


The gender of debt and credit: Insights from rural Tamil Nadu

—E. Reboul, I. Guérin, C. J. Nordman.

World Development, 142, 105363, (2021).
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The champions of financial inclusion regret women’s lack of access to credit, while critics of financialization, by contrast, claim that women have become overly indebted. But little is actually known about women’s debt/credit in quantitative terms, mostly due to a lack of data. This descriptive paper uses first-hand survey data from southern India disaggregated by sex in order to analyze the gender of debt and its interplay with caste and poverty, based on descriptive statistics and econometric results. We show that women are heavily indebted, first and foremost to informal sources, alongside microcredit. While men are much higher earners, they borrow much less in relative terms. Furthermore, women prominently – and markedly more so than men – borrow in order to make ends meet; productive investment largely remains a male practice. Lastly, women of the poorest and lowest-caste households have the heaviest borrowing responsibilities, managing the highest proportions of household debt. On a theoretical level, these results highlight the gendered earmarking of debt and credit: male and female debts/credits do not have the same meanings and uses. They also confirm the gendered dimension of behavior, in as much as women’s behavior is constrained by family affiliation, poverty level and caste, all of which affects men much less. Last, in terms of policy implications, these results put into question the specific targeting of women by microcredit policies, likely to strengthen the association between debt and poverty for women, and in particular to exacerbate female responsibilities for managing scarcity.

Cite as:
Reboul, E., Guérin, I., & Nordman, C. J. (2021). The gender of debt and credit: Insights from rural Tamil Nadu. World Development, 142, 105363. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2020.105363

(Open access version: IZA DP No. 13891)


Insights on Demonetisation from Rural Tamil Nadu: understanding social networks and social protection

—I. Guérin, Y. Lanos, S. Michiels, C. J. Nordman, G. Venkatasubramanian.

Economic & Political Weekly, 52(52), 44–53, (2017).
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Drawing on survey data from rural Tamil Nadu, the effects of demonetisation are documented. Serious concerns arise with regard to the achievement of its stated goals. The rural economy was adversely affected in terms of employment, daily financial practices, and social network use for over three months. People came to rely more strongly on their networks to sustain their economic and social activities. Demonetisation has probably further marginalised those without support networks. In a context such as India, where state social protection is weak and governmental schemes are notoriously subject to patronage and clientelistic networks, dense networks of supportive relatives, friends and patrons remain key for safeguarding daily life. With cashless policies gaining currency in various parts of the world, we believe our findings have major implications, seriously questioning their merit, especially among the most marginalised segments of the population.

Cite as:
Guérin, I., Lanos, Y., Michiels, S., Nordman, C. J., & Venkatasubramanian, G. (2017). Insights on Demonetisation from Rural Tamil Nadu: understanding social networks and social protection. Economic & Political Weekly, 52(52).

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