Money from Nothing

Indebtedness and Aspiration in South Africa
  • Publication Date: 2014
  • Dimensions and Pages: 230 x 150mm, 304 pp
  • Paperback EAN: 978 1 86814 689 5
  • Rights: Southern Africa
  • Recommended Price (ZAR): 350.00
  • Recommended Price (USD): n/a

South Africa’s national project of financial inclusion aims to extend credit to black South Africans as a critical aspect of abolishing apartheid’s legacy. Money from Nothing explores the contradictory dynamics inherent in this project, and captures the lived experience of indebtedness for many millions who attempt to improve their positions (or merely sustain existing livelihoods) in this complex economy.
Deborah James shows the varied ways in which access to credit is intimately bound up with identity and status-making. The precarious nature of aspirations of upward mobility and the economic relations of debt which sustain people is revealed by the shadowy side of indebtedness and potential for new forms of oppression and exclusion which can accompany projects of upliftment. She reflects on the apparent absurdity of a situation where consumers’ borrowing is, on the one hand, checked by being blacklisted with the credit bureaux, yet borrowers clamour for a ‘credit information amnesty’ while lenders continue to lend with impunity.
James concludes that the paternalism of a system in which consumers’ bank accounts are under ‘external control’ intensifies the ‘advantage to creditor’ principle that has long underpinned South African consumer law.

List of Illustrations



Non-English Words and Phrases

A Note on Currency

Introduction: The Wellsprings of Consumption and Debt in South Africa

Chapter 1: Indebtedness, Consumption, and Marriage: The New Middle Class

Chapter 2: Regulating Credit: Tackling the Redistributiveness of Neoliberalism

Chapter 3: “Ride the Camel”: Borrowing and Lending in Context

Chapter 4: “You Don’t Keep Money All the Time”: Savings Clubs and Social Mobility

Chapter 5:  South Africa’s Credit Crunch: Narratives and Neighborhoods

Chapter 6: “The History of That House Keeps You Out”: Property and the New Entrepeneur

Chapter 7: New Subjectivities: Advice, Aspiration, and Prosperity





Deborah James is Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics. Her previous books include Gaining Ground? “Rights” and “Property” in South African Land Reform and Songs of the Women Migrants.


Credit, and its flip side, debt, emerges as a fundamental lens to understand the workings of both social mobility and economic
disenfranchisement, precariously inter-twined in the New South Africa. James makes complex theory accessible, combining it with pageturning
ethnography–utterly captivating!
— Dinah Rajak, Senior Lecturer in Anthropology, University of Sussex
and author of In Good Company: An Anatomy of Corporate Social Responsibility

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