Netherlands, Nijmegen

Debt & Inequality in the 21st Century

when 8 August 2016 - 12 August 2016
language English
duration 1 week
credits 2 ECTS
fee EUR 400

Debt and inequality rank among society's most pressing problems. Global socioeconomic inequalities are on the rise and more people and countries are indebted than ever before in history. These problematic tendencies recently spawned a new wave of scholarly reflection, spearheaded by the British-American anthropologist David Graeber and the French political-economist Thomas Piketty. Their work suggests a close, yet complex relation between debt and inequality. Consider, for instance, the ownership of public debts by small but powerful economic elites which are serviced by ordinary tax payers, hence resulting in a massive transfer of capital. Or consider how personal debts that result from costly yet mandatory expenses, such as healthcare and higher education, limit one's ability to take out a mortgage and thus to build up capital through house ownership.

The contributions of Graeber and Piketty further show that debt and inequality are not autonomous, external forces but enter the life of ordinary men and women as concrete challenges that they give meaning to within their own frame of reference. For instance, while in many societies debt is understood as an exchange that has not been brought to completion, it is the particular class, ethnic or religious orientation of people that determines whether this is seen as a desirable condition or whether it brings along the moral duty to repay. Also, whether the socioeconomic inequalities following from debt are considered a private problem that individual persons or countries must resolve (the neoliberal position) or whether the preferred response is a more collective approach that seeks to redress structural imbalances in society, depends on ideas about fairness eng rained in the underlying symbolic order.

In this course you will learn to disentangle the complex web of relationships between debt and inequality, with special reference to the cultural meanings attached to these notions in a wide variety of societies across the globe. You are guided towards this understanding by exploring major trends with regards to debt and inequality in the 21st century, looking both at its global dimensions and local implications. During the course you will attend morning lectures by faculty staff and invited speakers, offering thorough exposure to key insights from scholars such as Graeber, Piketty and others. Furthermore, you will interact with practitioners representing relevant institutions, such as a social investment bank, debt counseling bureau or 'Big Capital' watchdog organization, where possible on location. During the afternoon sessions you will sharpen your own ideas on debt and inequality in the form of small research projects, exploring different types of empirical material (statistics, interviews, historical archives and photographic imagery) with qualitative and quantitative methods. You present your results to a panel at the end of the course for further discussion.

Course leader

Dr. J. Beuving
Lecturer & researcher
Cultural Anthropology & Development Studies (CAOS)
Radboud University

Target group

- Students towards the final stages of their Bachelor education who want to prepare for a Masters that touches on socioeconomic inequality and/or cultural aspects of debt.
- Master students, from any social science discipline, who would like to specialize in themes related to public or private debt and/or inequality.

Course aim

After this course you are able to:
- grasp the complexity of the relationship between debt and inequality, based on recent key insights.
- understand the cultural meanings attached to debt and inequality across a diversity of societies.
- develop an empirically informed position in discussions related to debt and inequality using qualitative and quantitative research methods.
- disseminate and defend this position towards fellow students, academic experts, and practitioners.

Fee info

EUR 400: The course fee includes the registration fee, course materials, access to library and IT facilities, coffee/tea, lunch, and a number of social activities.

10% discount for early bird applicants. The early bird deadline is 1 April 2016.
15% discount for students and PhD candidates from Radboud University and partner universities.
EUR 195: Housing (optional)