Reconceptualizing Debt Bondage: Debt as a Class-Based Form of Labor Discipline

This article challenges the tendency to conceptualize contemporary debt bondage as an individualized relationship between employer and victim. It highlights the systemic relations of inequality that underpin debt bondage in advanced capitalist countries, focusing on temporary migrant workers in the United States. It advances two interlocking arguments. First, that debt bondage in the US market is rooted in processes of ‘neoliberalization’ that have left dispossessed populations few alternatives but to sell themselves into coercive labor markets. Second, that debt operates as a class-based form of power that disciplines all sectors of the labor market, albeit in variegated forms and degrees. Far from an archaic or non-capitalist social relation, debt bondage must be understood as a profitable strategy of labor discipline anchored in state regulatory frameworks that have bolstered the power of employers and facilitated predatory and privatized forms of credit and lending as solutions to poverty and unemployment.

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About Giorgio Bertini

Research Professor. Founder Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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