When Belonging Means Borrowing

Abbye Atkinson

In a recent essay in California Law Review, Professor Abbye Atkinson explores how our society encourages a “consumerist vision of American belonging” that’s often fueled by credit and other borrowing while debt policies and norms are intentionally marginalizing and exclusionary toward distressed debtors. 

Atkinson, whose scholarship focuses on the law of debtors and creditors as it affects marginalized communities, argues that if credit-and debt-based consumption is wrapped up in the idea of belonging, policies involving them must expand beyond their dominant economic orientation.

“A belonging approach would not ignore or automatically supplant these and other market concerns,” she writes. “Instead, it would require that, in addition to the traditional economic analysis, policymakers also consider the role of credit/debt-based consumption as a source of social well-being and dignity, affirmatively balancing these two interests accordingly. Conflict and tensions are certain to quickly materialize, but engaging in the work of acknowledging and addressing the positive dignitarian aspects of credit/debt consumption is vital, at a minimum, to the well-being of disadvantaged groups who must engage in self-help social welfare in the consumer credit/debt markets.”