Book Review: A Feminist Reading of Debt by Lucí Cavallero and Verónica Gago
In A feminist reading of debt, Luci Cavallero and Veronique gago offer a feminist understanding of debt that explores its impact on women and the LGBTQ + community and examines the relationship between debt and social reproduction, in the context of the Argentine feminist movement and the broader militant resistance in Latin America. This book is of great value for those interested in the financialization of everyday life and social reproduction and essential reading for those who study and participate in the building of feminist movements in Latin America and beyond, writing Gabriela Neves from Lima.
A feminist reading of debt. Lucí Cavallero and Verónica Gago (translation by Liz Mason-Deese). Pluto Press. 2021.
In A feminist reading of debt, Lucí Cavallero and Verónica Gago join the burgeoning research theorizing the interconnection between neoliberalism and neoconservatism by focusing on relationships, (im) mobility and mobilizations generated by debt. This literature highlights the neoliberal project of consolidating the traditional family – and associated gender and race hierarchies – to pick up the pieces of dismantled social states. This leads to a relocation of government debt to households, with households increasingly relying on credit to obtain the goods and services necessary for their reproduction. Cavallero and Gago offer a multidimensional analysis of this process of financial expropriation based primarily on the political and economic specifics of the Argentinian context and the struggles waged by the feminist movement there over the past five years.
This book reminded me of Barbara Sutton’s Body in crisis, a thoughtful account of the concrete implications of the 2001 economic crisis and the importance of organs for democratic politics in Argentina. However, its most obvious theoretical and methodological inspiration seems to be that of Judith Butler. Towards a performative assembly theory. As the authors note, it is when bodies come together and alliances develop that debt becomes visible as a common concern, despite the fact that finance relies on and reproduces gendered forms of inequality and of difference. It is also here that the links are drawn between intimacy and national economic policies embedded in global power structures.
While debt becomes a means of managing crises by producing obedient subjects and channeling conflict inward (i.e., to homes and territories), those who participate in the feminist strikes that are taking place since 2016 have been using their embodied knowledge and lived experiences to politicize and resist it. These connections are synthesized in political slogans such as: “we want to be alive and debt free”. The right to life – a key demand of feminist movements against gender violence – is thought of in conjunction with debt relief as a key dimension of economic violence. The declaration adopted in 2020 reverses the debt ratio and reframes the very idea of debt; it’s for women, lesbians, trans people and transvestites this debt is due. Here it is important to stress that these political slogans serve both an educational and a productive function: they allow a better understanding of the world and encourage revolutionary desires.
Image Credit: Photo cropped by Ehud Neuhaus on Unsplash
Cavallero and Gago’s criticism is nuanced, however, noting that debt can both bind and enable movement. Getting into debt can result from a desire to inhabit a future that is better than the present. In the case of women, lesbians, trans and transvestites, it can mean fleeing abusive homes and seeking greater economic independence, among other reasons. As such, their criticism is directed towards the extractive nature of finance and the futuristic mechanism of debt by facilitating exploitation and accommodation to greater precariousness, and not towards subjects who wish to live differently. The authors also point out the contradictory ways in which women’s social networks can be instrumentalised by banks and credit agencies as a sort of collateral to secure debt repayment, but can also foster self-help practices such as pasanaku (a rotating circle of credit), allowing them to avoid higher interest rates or make purchases without going into full debt.
Beyond its theoretical and methodological contributions, some of which have been mentioned above, this book is an important document in itself, within the framework of the political imagination of the contemporary feminist movement in Argentina. We can understand the political process of the feminist strike as a generator of new vocabularies, ideas and actions. At the same time that the authors are inserted in academic institutions – Cavallero is a researcher at the Universidad de Buenos Aires where Gago teaches political science in addition to his position as professor of sociology at the Universidad Nacional de San Martín – they are feminist activists in the Ni Una Menos Collective. They write within the movement and, as such, their work represents a situated way of thinking and a militant theorization. Many sections of the main chapter of the book are titled after feminist political slogans, or in direct reference to events with implications for women, lesbians, trans people and women. transvestites in Argentina.
The multiplicity of voices, dialogical action, and cognitive mapping involved in this feminist reading of debt are clearly illustrated in the book by the inclusion of interviews with relevant activist organizations in Argentina and Brazil (54-80). The book also contains two manifestos published in 2017 by feminist collectives (81-83). Furthermore, the authors note that the original book (published by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in 2019) was discussed in various educational, feminist, community and other organizational spaces, which led to new considerations which were added to the English version. New feminist struggles against debt in Argentina and other parts of Latin America have also inspired new chapters.
A welcome addition is the brief but incisive consideration of the financialization of housing and urban development. The feminist assembly of Villa 31 (a well-located informal neighborhood) discovered how the existing housing policy that prioritizes subsidized home ownership is dispossessing residents through financial inclusion. As formerly inhabited land is brought onto the market, new homes come with monthly expenses (loan and service payments) and a potential drop in income (as housing does not provide adequate working space. ), which can quickly lead to increased indebtedness, payment arrears and eviction. In addition, the titration policy strengthens the cis-heteronormative family.
The wide range of topics covered in a fairly succinct manner and the way the book is organized sometimes makes it difficult to follow readers. Nonetheless, this seems to reflect in part the dynamism and openness of a thought developed through the social movement, as well as the sense of urgency to actualize and circulate ideas to visualize debt operations and put them back. involved, which is commendable. As translator Liz Mason-Deese says, translation is part of an effort to broaden the scope of concepts, spark new debates, incite action, and help strengthen the internationalism of the feminist movement. It should be noted that Gago Feminist International offers a greater contextualization of the feminist movement in Argentina and develops many concepts used in A feminist reading of debt.
A feminist reading of debt is of great value to those who study and / or get involved in building feminisms in Latin America and elsewhere. It’s essential reading for students and academics researching the recent feminist movement in Argentina. Those interested in the financialization of daily life and social reproduction, regardless of their disciplinary background and regional orientation, will also find the work of Cavallero and Gago particularly insightful.
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Note: This article gives the author’s point of view, not the position of the USAPP – American Politics and Policy, or the London School of Economics.
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About the Examiner
Gabriela Neves from Lima – LSE Geography and Environment
Gabriela Neves de Lima is a PhD candidate in Human Geography and Urban Studies in the Department of Geography and Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her thesis project focuses on contemporary feminist activist practices in Brazil, particularly in the area of housing and care. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science (Sciences Po Paris) and an MSc in urban policy (Sciences Po Paris and LSE).