RUNAWAY DEBT: PRECARIZATION, SUBVERSION, AND THE REFUSAL TO PAY
EDITED BY NANDINI MAJUMDAR & KATHLEEN FIELD
The books reviewed here explore debt as a tool of globalized racial capitalism, from its role in perpetuating housing insecurity and police brutality, to its hand in environmental extraction and the commodification of dispossessed geopolitical regions. Debt is entangled in the intersecting axes of race, gender, class, and coloniality. It weaves itself throughout these texts into generational memory, landscape, and livelihood. Particularly for the already marginalized, it determines who survives and at what cost. This section thus presents an interdisciplinary understanding of debt exceeding the bounds of economics. It acknowledges debt’s global yet locational power, incorporating texts that center the Pacific arena, Argentina and Latin America, Israel and Palestine, and Florida – and gestures toward anti-debt futures.
In Cannibal Capitalism: How Our System Is Devouring Democracy, Care, and the Planet – What We Can Do About It, feminist Marxist theorist Nancy Fraser discusses labor, care, nature, and politics as the pillars on which capitalism rests and which it also destructs. Fraser examines everything after which capitalism hungers, a hunger so insatiable as to trap the planet in an impossible position of inescapable indebtedness. Activist-scholars Lucí Cavallero and Verónica Gago also take an intersectional approach to understanding systems of extraction and dispossession. In A Feminist Reading of Debt, they work largely with Argentine and Latin American examples of “financial terror” to elucidate the gendered dimensions of racial capitalism’s hunger, advocating for alliances between the feminist movement and union power to demand debt abolition and refusal to pay.
In No More Police: A Case for Abolition, Mariame Kaba and Andrea J. Ritchie focus on policing in the US as epitomizing capitalism’s paradoxical structure. Increased investment in the police “serves as a mechanism for racial capitalism to save itself from crises of its own creation.” The abolition of debt as racialized instrument of financial terror finds itself intrinsically linked to arguments supporting prison abolition, as prisons function not only as contemporary iterations of enslavement and Jim Crow (what Fred Moten and Stefano Harney call “Black debt”), but also because proponents of prison and policing argue that incarceration is a means for the criminalized to pay off their debts to society. Acknowledging that the debt of criminality is assigned and redeemed along racist, classist, and colonialist lines, we understand that abolition must account for the dual systems of discipline – debt and police.
Jinah Kim’s Postcolonial Grief: The Afterlives of the Pacific Wars in the Americas focuses on those killed and those forgotten by US imperialism in the Pacific arena, interrogating grief – its own indebted inheritance – as something to harness, embrace, and wield. Kim asserts that melancholia can be productive rather than pathological, in containing the potential for insurgency, and looks towards literature as disrupting the state’s injunction to erase. The last two reviews in this section focus on tourism and dispossession in its material and narrative forms. Jennifer Lynn Kelly’s Invited to Witness: Solidarity Tourism Across Occupied Palestine and Andrew Ross’s Sunbelt Blues explore the place-based ways that state and corporate forces have designed specific geographies to extract and owe. For the particular contexts of Palestine and central Florida, Kelly and Ross elucidate the ways tourism perpetuates and also complicates forces of dispossession.
Through interdisciplinary archives and methodologies that highlight the minutest forms of violence and the intimacies of lived experience, the texts in this section come together in insisting on the need for reimagining theoretical frameworks and the power of artistic work. This dual commitment, they assert, opens possibilities for new and necessary solidarities and social change.