Beyond debt and equity

Dissecting the red herring and a path forward for normative critiques of finance

in Focaal
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A recurring theme in academic, moralizing, and religious discourses laments the individual and societal perils of debt and praises equity. Contemporary Islamic banking and finance is one conspicuous example. This article recontextualizes this conversation by demonstrating that since the 1980s financial practitioners have been interpreting debt and equity as increasingly illegible cognitive schemas that nonetheless retain their historical and moral connotations. This line of argumentation suggests that normatively contrasting debt and equity is a red herring—a literary device and theoretical construct that misleads and distracts from the fundamental discussion of what constitutes salubrious or odious finance. Little will change in social life if we seek to replace “debt” with “equity.” Rather, since all financial instruments describe social relationships, our conversation should turn to normatively proscribing the kinds of financial instruments that match our normative values for contractual relationships.

Focaal

Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology

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