12 May 2011 - 14 May 2011 All day Clare College, The Gillespie Centre, Cambridge / Mill Lane Lecture Rooms, Cambridge







Dr Holly High (Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge)


Debt is a foundational concept in the study of humanity. Mauss’ celebrated essay on the gift suggested that debt may even, in some circumstances, lay the basis for sociality itself. Thinking through debt, we can also acknowledge intellectual debts to Malinowski, Marx, and Freud. Today, when personal debts, national debts, the socialization of private debt and the personal burden of public debts have become general concerns not only among the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs, who have long suffered the crisis of debt) but also the so-called PIGGS and BRICS and indeed many of the rest, it is timely to return to consider debt as a foundational concept.

Debt, considered in interdisciplinary terms, expands beyond financial and economic definitions (although these remain salient) to include the often ambiguous terrain of what is owned and what is owed. It encompasses a consideration of humans as physical beings in relationship to material resources, as social and political beings in a struggle with one another over resources more generally, and as ethical beings engaged in evaluative debates and morally charged encounters. It characterises the intimacies of family relationships just as much as those of the market or the law enforcer. Debt implies compulsion of one kind or another, such as duty, obligation, or indeed force. However, conceptualisations of debt vary across historical and cultural contexts. Debt must be approached through considerations of particular cases of debt and its compulsions, moralities and politics. This conference thus brings together papers that engage with the theme of debt as a broad and enduring human passion via the study of particular debt formations.

Accommodation for delegates

We are unable to arrange accommodation, however, the following websites may be of help.

NB. CRASSH is not able to help with the booking of accommodation.



The conveners are grateful for the support of The Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), the Department of Social Anthropology, Cambridge, the Wyse Fund and the Evans Fund, at the University of Cambridge.


Administrative assistance: Helga Brandt (Conference Programme Manager, CRASSH)



Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk