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Debt to SocietyAccounting for Life under Capitalism$
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Miranda Joseph

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780816687411

Published to Minnesota Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816687411.001.0001

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Accounting for Debt

Accounting for Debt

Toward a Methodology of Critical Abstraction

(p.1) 1 Accounting for Debt
Debt to Society

Miranda Joseph

University of Minnesota Press

This chapter examines the role of accounting in the social relations of credit and debt, with particular emphasis on the dialectic of abstraction and particularization through which capitalism operates. It articulates a theoretical and methodological framework to offer an account of debt for social change, first by considering David Graeber’s theorization of debt, which it deems to be a kind of “repressive hypothesis” that relies on a demonization and reification of abstraction to cast debt as only destructive of some autochthonous or natural communal energy. It then describes the dialectic of abstraction and particularization—built on Marxian elaborations of moments in Karl Marx’s texts—and the strategy of critical abstraction necessary to confront it. Departing from Janet Roitman’s argument regarding the productivity of debt, the chapter presents credit and debt as socially formative social formations; that is, like commodities, they depend on and articulate a complex of abstract determinations. In conclusion, it discusses the performativity of financial accounting.

Keywords:   accounting, social relations, credit, debt, abstraction, particularization, capitalism, social change, David Graeber, financial accounting

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