Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Debt Space: Topologies, Ecologies and Ramallah, Palestine

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Debt Space: Topologies, Ecologies and Ramallah, Palestine

Article excerpt

Abstract

Debt is widely conceived as temporal--present consumption bought with future labour. This paper advances conceptualisations of debt by incorporating the active role space plays in creating, maintaining and undermining debt relations. Debts are topological binds--a particular kind of spatial connection, which are entangled with topographic spaces to produce debt ecologies. This argument is developed by tracing the creation, maintenance and/or destruction of spatial connections between different people, communities, institutions and sites in the Palestinian conurbation of Ramallah--Al Bireh. Attending to the spatiality of debt offers a better understanding of debt itself, and extends relational approaches to finance that deploy network imaginaries, which cannot account for topological spacings that fold or dissolve distance and divisions. The extensive range of time-spaces that co-constitute specific debt ecologies also reveal a more-than-economic geography, which in the context of Ramallah enfolds family and geopolitics. These entanglements emerge from a methodological approach that uses ethnography to move beyond statistical representations of debt. Thinking debt topological^ also responds to postcolonial concerns about the locatedness of theory.

Keywords

Debt, topology, ecology, financialisation, Palestine, Ramallah

Introduction

In this paper, I argue that we need to understand debt as a spatial, as much as temporal relation. Anthropological research has long conceived of debt as inherently temporal present consumption bought with future labour. In such studies, space is not absent, but with a few exceptions it is rendered conceptually passive and secondary to time. Working with the exceptions to the critical consensus, I seek to develop a theory of debt that recognises the active role space plays in creating, maintaining and undermining debt relations. I argue that debts are topological binds--a particular kind of spatial connection (Allen, 2011a; Martin and Secor, 2014). Economic geographers have persuasively argued that relational forms of space are an important co-constituent of financial markets, technologies, subjects and money (Christophers, 2013; French et al., 2011; Pike and Pollard, 2010). This paper extends relational approaches to finance by using topology to augment financial network imaginaries (Langley, 2008; Pike and Pollard, 2010). If the concept of network maps connections between separate points, topology is a relational spacing that folds or dissolves divisions between here and there, creating ecologies where institutions, subjects and practices can only be disentangled or unfolded heuristically (Allen and Cochrane, 2014).

Topologies of debt are also always entangled with topographic spaces. Therefore any geography of debt must necessarily examine entanglements of topological and topographic space, or what I will term debt ecologies. This concept draws on, and extends work on financial ecologies (see French et al., 2011; Lai, 2016; Leyshon et al., 2004). While the concept of ecologies captures the dynamic and generative interrelations of topological and topographic space, debt ecologies are simultaneously financial AND geopolitical, social and cultural. Consequently, the paper builds on arguments for a more-than-economic geography attuned to ordinariness, contingency and diversity (Gibson-Graham, 2014; Lee, 2006). This approach pays attention to how the world co-constitutes economic practices, as much as how economics shapes the world (Christophers, 2013: 11). In this paper, the 'worlds' of family (Harker and Martin, 2012) and geopolitics (Dittmer and Sharp, 2014) are foregrounded, contributing to geographical analyses in these areas where debt is otherwise hardly discussed.

The theorisation of debt offered emerges from and through ethnographic research conducted in the Ramallah-Al Bireh conurbation [hereafter Ramallah], in centre of the Occupied West Bank. …

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