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Debt for status? Consumer credit, ordinary consumption, and the sense of place

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 November 2023

Felipe González-López*
Affiliation:
Universidad Central de Chile, Chile
*
Corresponding author: Felipe González, Lord Cochrane 417, Santiago de Chile, 8320000. Email: felipe.gonzalez@ucentral.cl
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Abstract

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The quest for social status is usually considered one of the main drivers of the demand for consumer credit. This article provides a nuanced take on consumer credit by exploring the interaction between consumption, borrowing, and class identity. To do so I pursue a cultural class analysis inspired by the work of Pierre Bourdieu. Drawing from 26 semi-structured interviews, the article has two main findings. First, it shows that people engage in borrowing not only to gain prestige, but also to assert their belongingness to symbolic groups, which embody the values of imagined communities. Second, against the idea that borrowing is undertaken mainly for conspicuous consumption, the article's findings show that middle-income families in Chile borrow to consume ‘ordinary’ goods. Through the consumption of these goods, the Chilean middle classes seek to stabilize their class identities through their life trajectories, thereby achieving a sense of place in a changing environment. These findings lead me to focus on the normalization of credit and the process through which borrowing practices turn consumer goods from wants into needs, ratcheting up the demand for credit. The article argues that this is an overlooked way in which competitive dynamics drive the demand for credit, which is a missing link in the explanation for the rise of household debt.

Type
Article
Creative Commons
Creative Common License - CCCreative Common License - BYCreative Common License - NCCreative Common License - ND
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivatives licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/), which permits noncommercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is unaltered and is properly cited. The written permission of Cambridge University Press must be obtained for commercial re-use or in order to create a derivative work.
Copyright
© 2023 The Author(s)

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