|Over the last couple of decades, global debt has soared. Withdrawal of state welfare provision, expansion of financial markets, and dependency of people on credit for basic needs have led to increased indebtedness. Household debts are piling up across the world, in the form of mortgages, student loans, medical debts, credit card debts, and more. Although debt is often seen as a financial transaction in the form of borrowing and repayment, scholars recognize that debt is also a power relationship inseparable from an overall set of interdependencies and a social experience ingrained with subjectivities, obligations and aspirations. Our lives are shaped by the ebb and flow of debt relations. Nevertheless, the lived experiences of indebtedness, everyday negotiations of debts, with regards to power, conflict and consent, and the embodied and emotional labour of caring for debts are still understudied areas.
This dissertation draws from ethnographic research conducted in 2019 that focuses on state-led, debt-based housing provision for low-income groups in Turkey. The research examines lived experiences of indebtedness in mass housing projects developed by the state’s Mass Housing Administration (TOKI). The ethnographic fieldwork employs multiple qualitative methods including in-depth interviews with TOKI mass housing estate residents, semi-structured interviews with key informants, public officials, and local actors, as well as focus groups, participant observation and document analysis. By tracing the experiences of indebted households, as well as the narratives created through the state’s housing policy and practice, this research interrogates (1) how ‘debt to state’ is manifested and experienced (2) how the Turkish state’s housing policy operates and shapes gender relations of homemaking and homeownership (3) how debts are cared for in the context of state-led housing provision for low-income groups in Turkey.
I share the findings of this research in three empirical and one theoretical article-based chapters. Chapter Three proposes a feminist direction for financialization research in economic geography informed by Social Reproduction Theory. The chapter argues that as austerity regimes exacerbate debt-based finance and household indebtedness across the world, debts are cared for within the social reproductive capacities of home, while the capacity to care for others depletes through precarity and debt. The chapter offers a framework for ‘caring for debts’ by broadening our conceptualizations of subjectivity formation in financialization research and incorporating an embodied understanding of finance and debt. Chapter Four examines debt-based housing provision and lived experiences of indebtedness in low-income mass housing estates to understand how policy shapes relations of everyday finance, debt, real estate, and politics. The paper shows that as households mitigate current debt burdens with the hope of future financial gains in real estate, ‘debt to state’ plays a significant role in establishing consent around the neoliberal transformation of urban land. The results of this paper offer insights into how neoliberal housing policies rely upon and rework local communities and networks of labour and politics. Chapter Five puts a gender lens on TOKI’s ‘social’ housing provision through feminist critical policy analysis and reveals that the political economy of TOKI’s housing policy and practice not only produces gendered outcomes but also contributes to the reproduction of patriarchal property relations and fixing them in the urban space. Finally, Chapter Six examines the conditions of women's labour in TOKI housing estates and contributes to feminist economic geography by theorizing caring for debts as women’s work.
My research contributes to the dialogue between urban economic geography and feminist political economy in the domain of financialization, offers avenues for geographical research that are empirically attuned to lived experiences and embodied subjectivities of everyday finance and debt. Accordingly, this work contributes to diverse theories of debt by flipping the narrative of debt as a personal responsibility to a broader understanding of debt as a systemic and structural problem in neoliberal society. Also, my research provides a gender lens on housing policy and contributes to feminist economic geography and labour studies in the domain of women’s labour by theorizing ‘caring for debts’ as women’s work. My practical contribution is a better understanding of the politics of debts to state, and insight for urban advocates to consider alternative ways of resisting isolation and disenfranchisement in an indebted society.