I am scheduled to defend my dissertation in November 2018
Please find a summary and links to chapter drafts
Revisions are still on-going, so please do not cite
The Debtor Class is a study of the everyday political culture of economically-insecure debt-saturated Americans, reflecting more than a year of fieldwork spent immersed in the world of personal bankruptcy in America.
The Debtor Class makes contributions to the study of public opinion, political ideology, and economic sociology. By collecting and interpreting the socioeconomic practices (everyday actions related to socioeconomic status) of Americans in the lead-up to declaring personal bankruptcy, The Debtor Class, contributes to the field of economic sociology by revealing patterns of everyday practices associated with personal bankruptcy. The analysis finds three different “shapes” of bankruptcy (the cascade, the staircase, and the spiral) that have different implications for the duration of economic insecurity prior to bankruptcy, common practices prior to bankruptcy, and the causal structure of the bankruptcy which ranges from simple (the cascade) to complex (the spiral).
The Debtor Class charts a new course in the study of political views by introducing the concept of political perspectives: people’s responses to questions about politics as well as the justifications they have for the way they think, taken in context of their sense of who they are in the world. Political perspectives are more complex and contextualized than opinions, but are less grandiose and constrained than ideologies. The political perspectives of the debtor class are contextualized by the values of hard work and personal responsibility, and are commonly justified by a “deep story” (a story that feels as if it is true) against entitlement in which the hard-working and lazy are engaged in a zero-sum game for economic resources. Within my sample of the debtor class (17 Americans who have filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy with whom I have done extensive conversational interviews) I find two main expressions of the deep story held by “Archies” and “Ediths.” I also find a small group (n=2 in the sample), “Social Democrats” who do not share the deep story.
When it comes to socioeconomic practices, Archies tend towards spiral bankruptcies (complex, protracted) that include practices of providing economically for adult children and occupations that rise and fall with the economy, whereas Ediths tend towards cascade bankruptcies (simple, swift) that include practices surrounding medical crises and occupations that are more economically insulated. This suggests that the relationship between economic insecurity and politics is complex and mediated heavily by social factors, but that if we want to understand the political culture of groups that were important in the 2016 election of Donald Trump (the “Archie Bunkers” of my sample tended to vote for Trump, whereas Ediths were more likely to stay home, both contributing in their way) we should look at everyday practices such as providing for family, work-place interactions, and responding to health crises.
CHAPTERS (in draft form, DO NOT CITE):
The Debtor Class
Socioeconomic Practices and Political Perspectives of Americans in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy
Thomas Hawk // “Stop Foreclosure” // Taken December 23, 2008 // Los Angeles, CA