debt at lse

Friday Seminar 12 11 2021 Debt Keith Hart and Maka Suarez

Keith Hart (Goldsmiths Anthropology Emeritus Prof Anthropology)


economic anthropologist who divides his life between Paris, Durban and his laptop


Keith Hart (born 1943 in Manchester, England) is international director of the Human Economy Programme at the University of Pretoria and lives in Paris with his family. His main research has been on economic anthropology, Africa and the African diaspora. He has taught at numerous universities (including East Anglia, Manchester, Yale and the Chicago), most significantly at Cambridge where he was director of the African Studies Centre. He has contributed the concept of the informal economy to development studies and has published widely on economic anthropology. He is the author of The Memory Bank (aka Money in an Unequal World). One personal obsession has been the relationship between movement and identity in the transition from national to world society. But his written work focuses on the apparent impasse between the national limits of politics and the fact that the economy is now global.

Maka Suarez (Princeton Institute of Advanced Studies Fellow) 


Antropóloga, activista, feminista, STSer. Dog lover. Co-founder

I work in the fields of economic and medical anthropology. I’m an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Oslo, and is currently a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ. I cofounded the Center for Interdisciplinary Ethnography – Kaleidos in Ecuador. I’m currently working on my book manuscript.


part of lse graeber series

debt (book) by david graeber

notes/quotes from 93 min video (host: alpa):

10 min – keith: (reading about debt book and david): debt revealed most clearly when money is involved.. one school of thought: money is debt.. rousseau traced ineq to invention of property.. david locates it (ineq) in roots of human bondage, slavery tribute, and organized violence in debt relations.. religions calling for freedom.. which meant debt cancellation.. on econ systems not concerned w/accum of wealth but creation/destruction/rearrangement of human beings.. use money as social currencies which maintain relations between people rather than being used to purchase things..

13 min – keith: (still reading): ‘in a human econ each person is unique and of incomparable value because each is in a unique nexus of relations w others’ – dg debt.. yet money forms make it possible to treat people as identical object in exchange and that requires violence.. brutality is omnipresent.. violence is inseparable from money/debt.. even in the most human of econs.. where ripping out from their familiar context is commonplace.. t

any form of m\a\p

14 min – keith: (still reading): this is taken to another level when they are drawn into systems like the atlantic slavetrade.. slavery and freedom .. a pair driven by a culture of honor and indebtedness culminate in the ultimate contradiction of modern liberal econ.. a worldview that conceives of individuals as being social asselits (?)

23 min – keith: (still reading): on piketty bringing equality back into main st agenda.. et al

thomas piketty

27 min – keith: (still reading): there are no longer any political solutions to our econ problems as a result

unless we try something legit diff ie: oikos (the economy our souls crave).. ‘i should say: the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.’ – gaston bachelard, the poetics of space

31 min – keith: (still reading): our main hope is to mobilize the global networks to develop the democracy.. knowing that we are faster and there are more of us than them

yeah.. not deep enough. ie: 1\ we need to let go of any form of democratic admin and 2\ will never work if there is an us & them

32 min – keith: (still reading): debt sold 30 000 copies in 2 wks in germany et al.. success not an accident

34 min – keith: (still reading): david trained himself to write accessibility for the general public.. he wrote each piece twice.. once for himself and another fore everyone else.. t.. a preference to be understood rather than admired

35 min – maka: (reading): like to connect debt to fragments of anarchist and doe

fragments of an anarchist anthropology and dawn of everything (book)

38 min – maka: david ‘why is debt such a focus when it’s so hard to org around’.. in what way has debt worked

39 min – maka: in fragments describes invisible spaces.. in debt he implies communism as spaces free of debt.. ie of squatting

45 mi – maka: 3 concepts of freedom: 1\ freedom to move 2\ refuse orders 3\ shape new reality.. ie: on debt coming with #1 .. needing proof of accommodation in order to bring families back together – immigration et al

49 min – maka: how to think of double bind as debt as access of freedom.. ie: if had proof of good housing.. no one came to check on you

50 min – maka: david was more interested in how people org’d around debt collectively than how they handled debt individually

52 min – maka: david was never trying to tell people how to think but was inviting us into his own way of connecting seemingly disconnected phenom.. t

need to let go of any form of m\a\p


54 min – alpa: something that continues to trouble me and i continue to work thru w david.. keith you said ‘no longer any political solutions to our econ problems’.. very counter to david’s project because it’s all about possibilities.. esp in last book doe.. i wanted you to reflect on that more.. and maka same w you w hector.. in end wants his own house rather than squatting.. so more on your reflections on the limitations of debt and possibilities

57 min – keith: i think there’s less contrast between david’s and my view of politics .. esp in debt book .. he finishes anal in 71 saying nothing about what might happen later.. that he and i felt.. we can build a pic of past .. but can’t predict future.. so in my view.. in 20th cent world built self around nation states.. vehicles for devel of capitalism.. we’ve been living thru decay of national capitalism.. now econ hijacked for small number of people.. always case that money/politics were always hand and glove.. but the few rich has no precedent in modern world.. the means of that was the free flow of capital w/o political hindrance.. used to undermine org’d labor.. the state.. et al.. to engineer biggest boom in world history.. what we’re living thru is decay of something that had the fundamental institutions that we still use as rhetoric of common existence.. so we don’t know how it’s going to end.. what’s going to happen next.. could be demo projects.. ww3 is a possibility in my view.. if look at anarchism.. wall st was attacked for not making any proposals.. considered a weakness.. if read demo project.. he’s saying the task of anarchist demos is to behave as if we were free and persuade others they might be.. but not make demands of existing govt.. best thing is to show that they’re shit.. i don’t think anarchism has ever had a kind of program.. vaguely let’s be friends and have communities.. but really the world is going to hell.. we have not found a world society that will secure human interest.. and i don’t know how we get from here to there.. that’s why i say that (no longer a way)

1:04 – maka: interesting ie’s i’m giving.. day to day.. i see them as somewhere in between the two extremes (pessimistic/optimistic).. i think this is very much what anthro shows us.. conflicts/contradictions in living day to day.. all these things come into play when trying to shift ground underneath us.. how do we do it on a day to day.. i’m wrestling w it of course.. t

1:07 – mathijs pelkmans: wondering if w hector.. failure to see house ownership as a myth.. et al.. was house ownership challenged

1:08 – maka: yes.. people learned they could get out of debt when become violent (?).. to them debt was a means to an end.. property meant my children will have a secure place to live.. t.. debt seen as way of getting something bigger than being a proprietor.. but what security of housing provided.. and when excessive and get violent there is a collective movement that will fight that.. so great question


1\ oikos (the economy our souls crave).. ‘i should say: the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.’ – gaston bachelard, the poetics of space

and 2\  money (any form of measuring/accounting) as the planned obsolescence w/ubi as temp placebo.. where legit needs are met w/o money.. till people forget about measuring

1:10 – deborah james: hector thinking debt/property most important.. ? david saying property wasn’t but debt was..

1:12 – keith: i’m writing a bio of marcel mauss..

1:17 – michael reinsborough: if david’s theory of value as every exchange performs the world we live in.. if performances not fair have to be backed up.. what is the role of violence in debt.. but also.. people want to pay debt back.. that violence isn’t important in keeping hold of a feeling of debt

there’s violence in the 2nd as well.. oi

alpa: violence is definitely part of david’s debt

1:19 – monika steule: fin of everyday life.. links to fem movement.. relationship between social reproduction.. how would you relate debt to this

1:20 – jonah: struck by this normative strand.. of freedom.. feels like something we know what that means.. should we be a bit more normative in anthro

yeah.. i don’t think so.. i think we have no idea what legit free people are like

1:22 – maka: yes violence is fundamental in way david is thinking about this.. math in violence.. we can break from that.. what else is possible.. very important in david’s work.. he’s not saying there should be an anarchist view.. he says there never was one.. both david’s in doe.. seeing how this will come.. that it will happen in our daily lives.. how is yet to be seen.. on monika’s question on fem work.. care and labor as fem movement.. what happens if we put care at center of what we do.. et al.. 3 freedoms.. but shifting between them.. never in just one.. we don’t have to sign up to just one thing for everyone to be all the time.. a lot of back and forth ness.. see how people move b&f and what spaces open up if we take care/violence into account.. what could come out.. we can do things diff

graeber violence/quantification law et al

graeber care/free law.. and steiner care to oppression law.. et al

1:26 – keith: i don’t privilege grand theorization for its own sake.. unless i realize what i have to say in concrete/accessible ways.. i’ve just written a book.. 300 pages.. almost all of it is anecdotes..


1:27 – keith: original question of book.. why do people feel they should pay back debt.. everyday communism, reciprocity, hierarchy.. but he says hierarchy (permanent debt) and reciprocity (temp debt) are transformation of idea of debt.. david hated reciprocity.. why do middle classes train children to say please/thank you.. because reasserts desire to be on other side of equation.. problem of this anal that comes up a lot in his work.. is often not specified in sociological terms who we are .. i can only offer my own experience in 70s.. first post war housing group.. married w no money.. bought/sold 5 houses and ended up w equity.. all my friends have been trained to fear debt.. i realized i could take a loan i couldn’t afford and sell at right time.. this is where debt/credit kind of turn around.. i will say this.. the recipe for viable/progressive/social democracy in 20th cent was mild inflation.. gave people idea that their property was increasing in value.. they committed to it.. the econ of persuasion (book).. who bene’s from inflation: debtors.. who loses from inflation: bankers, savers.. relationship between credit and debt.. where did people come up w idea .. own a house an you make money.. this question .. which is the central question.. deserves more treatment than we gave it today.. i was asked to speak for 20 min on biggest book in its day

? confused at where he’s coming from




lse graeber series