Debt and Its Attachments: Collateral as an Object of Knowledge in Nineteenth-Century Liberalism

Suter, Mischa. (2017) Debt and Its Attachments: Collateral as an Object of Knowledge in Nineteenth-Century Liberalism. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 57 (59). pp. 715-742.

PDF - Accepted Version

Official URL: http://edoc.unibas.ch/55780/

Downloads: Statistics Overview


This essay partakes in the dialogue between history, anthropology, and social theory on the topic of debt as a social relation. Drawing on sources from nineteenth-century Switzerland, it examines everyday routines of debt collection in liberalism by taking the seized collateral object to the center of historical anal- ysis. It is shown how the attached goods in a debtor ’ s household became an object of knowledge for nineteenth-century framers of law as well as for ordinary debtors. I make use of anthropological theory in order to describe the legal tech- niques of delineating and extracting collateral, and show how these legal tech- niques implied specific knowledge practices. I then look at two borderline cases of collateralization: the pawning of mobile goods and the imprisonment of insolvent debtors. Further, I discuss how, by the 1880s, the limits of debt col- lection were debated, when certain goods were exempt for seizure in a projected federal law. Overall, on an epistemological level, debt collection appears as a double movement: it provided basic tools to untangle property relationships, yet all the while it created new, unpredictable complications. Thus debt collection was a distinctive arena in which the uneasy conceptual relationship between people and things in nineteenth-century liberalism unfolded. From this concep- tual node I propose a historical epistemology of the collateral object.
Faculties and Departments:04 Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > Departement Geschichte > Bereich Neuere und Neueste Geschichte > Allgemeine Geschichte des 19./20. Jhds (Arni)
UniBasel Contributors:Suter, Michael
Item Type:Article, refereed
Article Subtype:Research Article
Publisher:Cambridge University Press
Note:Publication type according to Uni Basel Research Database: Journal article
Identification Number:
edoc DOI:
Last Modified:09 Mar 2018 13:16
Deposited On:19 Jan 2018 12:55

Repository Staff Only: item control page