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Governing Homo Subprimicus: Essays on the Financial Regulation of Poverty After the Subprime Crisis

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
This thesis explores the landscape of experimentation in non-prime financial products, services and institutions that has taken form since the financial crisis. Since the financial crisis, the premise that poor families can be made “self-sufficient” through the educated use of well-designed and regulated for-profit financial instruments has given rise to a variety of new financial practices that are reshaping the US financial landscape in ways that few geographers have studied. The thesis is composed of four primary chapters (chapters 2, 4, 6 and 8) with secondary linking chapters in between (chapters 3, 5 and 7). Chapter 2 challenges extant framings of the relationship between financially marginalized groups and the financial system as one of either discriminatory exclusion or usurious inclusion. It argues for a reframing of financial exclusion as a problem of financial government. From this perspective, financial exclusion is a problem of how to regulate the conduct of risky populations through the sale of financial products and services. It argues that apparatuses designed to overcome barriers to the extension of financial government have produced tiered processes of financial subject formation. Chapter 4 explores recent amendments of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, showing how the (re)production of financial relations at a national level can reshape financial relations at other scalar levels. It argues that the rescaling(s) that have attended the amendment of FCRA have reworked the relationship between individuals and their virtual financial selves (i.e. credit reports and scores) in ways that have created new tensions, contradictions and sites of struggle in the nascent post-crisis politics of financialization. Chapters 6 and 8 explore this nascent politics on the ground, drawing on interviews and 1.5 years of ethnographic work with nonprofits in the San Francisco Bay Area. These chapters examine how informal financial practices are being repurposed and formalized to make the risks of financially excluded groups legible, tractable and priceable for “mainstream” financial service providers. I show that formalization is used to achieve a variety of often-contradictory ends, including the valorization of fallow stocks of social capital, the making of new markets, and a redistribution of calculative agency in the credit scoring process.
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This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes.
Scholarly level
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Mann, Geoff
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