The overexposed, overindebted neoliberal consumer has become one of the most representative figures of financial capitalism. But both the commonsense claim that all money is essentially debt and its converse, that all debt is now money that can beget more money, foreclose analytical investigation of contemporary shifts in monetization and the specificity of creditor-debtor relations. This essay focuses on the dialectical relationship between the abstract and particular, between the calculus of capital and concrete materialities, between formal equality and substantive difference, between wealthfare and debtfare, between the free and unfree, and between specific understandings of obligation and opportunity in the politics of consumer credit and debt. New money forms not only challenge the familiar taxonomies within which money has been understood but also blur the boundaries between money, commodity, labor, and capital. Current financial developments, including different business models centered on the “free culture” associated with the Internet (free content, free labor, etc.) are caught up in this process, reworking wider social experiences of time and the future and challenging the idea that the value captured in the money form can be fixed in time and place. This article argues that money as the designator of value is always contested, and that the indeterminacy of money as a means of exchange and as a measure of value that cannot be assured is a process that engages the simultaneous transformation of economic orders, subjective investments, and social relations.
Fiona Allon; Money, Debt, and the Business of “Free Stuff”. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 April 2015; 114 (2): 283–305. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-2862718
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