Repaying the Debts of the Dead

Kinship, Microfinance, and Mortuary Practice on the Paraguayan Frontier

in Social Analysis
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Abstract

Microcredit loans—most famously systems of group-based borrowing—are a key tool in global economic development frameworks. Building outward from microcredit programs in Paraguay, I explore the discontinuous materialities of both kin- and debt-based obligations, especially at their intersection. I argue that borrowers feel the life span of debts most acutely when mortuary practices anchored in kinship ties are bound up with the task of taking on the financial obligations of the dead. This analysis shows how the bonds between kinship, death, and indebtedness go beyond analogy, for collective debt is not ‘like’ a kinship relationship. Instead, microcredit social collateral provides a means for people to deal with the broader issues affecting the life span of individuals, objects, and commitments, as well as the human stakes involved with obligation.

Contributor Notes

Caroline E. Schuster is a Lecturer in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Australian National University. She researches debt, development, and gender in Latin America. Her recent book, Social Collateral: Women and Microfinance in Paraguay’s Smuggling Economy (2015), tracks the politics of interdependency in debt relations.

Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology

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