Doing Borrowed Time: The State, the Law and the Coercive Governance of ‘Undeserving’ Debtors

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


© The Author(s) 2014.This paper documents the shift toward increasingly coercive means of collecting debt from working class and poor borrowers, with a specific focus on incarceration. Placing this trend within an historical trajectory, it is argued that the law has always been central to creating and securing the social relations of debt as class relations. While the abolition of debtors’ prisons in the 19th century helped to shift struggles between debtors and creditors out of public view and into the depoliticized realm of ‘the law’, a number of factors have led to its reappearance in the contemporary era. These include (1) changes to bankruptcy legislation that have given creditors greater power over debtors, (2) the emergence of the debt-buying industry and (3) the growing privatization, decentralization and commercialization of the state, which have transformed it into a creditor that relies on its power to punish to compel payment from some of the poorest debtors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)669-687
Number of pages18
JournalCritical Sociology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2014


  • capitalism
  • debt collection
  • debtors’ prison
  • historical materialism
  • law
  • political economy


Dive into the research topics of 'Doing Borrowed Time: The State, the Law and the Coercive Governance of ‘Undeserving’ Debtors'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this