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Debt, discipline and government: Foreclosure and forbearance in the subprime mortgage crisis

Langley, P.

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Authors



Abstract

The extensive punishment of debtors through foreclosure, and federal and state support for forbearance by lenders and loan servicers, are key features of the subprime mortgage crisis in the United States of America. From a Foucauldian perspective, foreclosure and forbearance give rise to questions about the production and reproduction of subprime mortgage debt through disciplinary and governmental power relations—questions that are neglected in the dominant understanding of subprime as an anomalous and unregulated market realm where predatory lenders preyed on borrowers. In addressing these questions I make a two-stage argument. First, I show subprime to have been largely unexceptional in the ways in which it was governed as a legitimate and highly profitable part of a mass mortgage market prior to the crisis: legal processes of foreclosure combined with disciplinary technologies for the calculation of risk and the calling up of responsible, entrepreneurial, and self-disciplined financial subjects. Second, it follows that forbearance, as an apparently progressive response to the crisis, is actually deeply ambivalent and more politically problematic than activists and supporters typically acknowledge. Forbearance does suspend disciplinary norms, opening up space for disagreement over whether lenders should be coresponsible with borrowers for the reproduction of mortgages into the future. But, simultaneously, forbearance closes down the prospects for coresponsibility beyond immediate debt rescheduling, and reinforces the legal, calculative, and self-disciplinary operation of power.

Citation

Langley, P. (2009). Debt, discipline and government: Foreclosure and forbearance in the subprime mortgage crisis. Environment and Planning A, 41(6), 1404-1419. https://doi.org/10.1068/a41322

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jan 1, 2009
Deposit Date Dec 12, 2011
Publicly Available Date Sep 6, 2013
Journal Environment and Planning A
Print ISSN 0308-518X
Electronic ISSN 1472-3409
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 41
Issue 6
Pages 1404-1419
DOI https://doi.org/10.1068/a41322

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Copyright Statement
P.Langley 2009. The definitive peer-reviewed and edited version of this article is published in Environment and Planning A, 41(6), 1404–1419, 10.1068/a41322






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