Everyday practices of indebtedness: a feminist political economy study of South Africa

Principal Supervisor: Sara Stevano (SOAS)

Co-Supervisor:  Jasmine Gideon (Birkbeck)

Project Description

Debt is an issue of increasing concern at multiple levels, from nation states to households, particularly in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis. Many countries in the Global South face a heightened debt crisis. In the neoliberal era, it has been common for national governments to seek to manage debt through austerity measures. Much feminist economics literature has documented the dire effects of cuts to public expenditure and to the provision of social services on women and those responsible for social reproduction (Pearson and Elson, 2015). The feminist analysis of the macro-dimensions of debt management is advanced, although more can be unpacked by seeing the articulations between gender dynamics and those of class and race – in other word, by taking a feminist intersectional approach. Further, an aspect that remains severely overlooked concerns the micro and everyday practices that families and households implement to manage indebtedness – as debt needs to be cared for (Montgomerie and Tepe-Belfrage, 2017). Such analysis can take the study of debt from the abstract to the concrete, illuminating the connections between indebtedness and sexist violence (Cavallero and Gago, 2021). Thus, a feminist reading of debt entails looking at both the macro and micro dimensions (Sibeko, 2022).

By focusing on South Africa, a country characterized by high inequality and experiencing rapid processes of financialization and indebtedness (Newman, 2017; James, 2021), this project will shed light on the macro-structural and micro-everyday implications of indebtedness from a feminist political economy lens, which centres the work and practices of social reproduction and care. It is envisaged that the project will be based on a mixed-method research design, encompassing the analysis of both secondary and primary data. The PhD candidate will benefit from the direct link with Oxfam South Africa and Oxfam Great Britain, which will fund primary research in South Africa and facilitate its organisation, contribute to establishing a network of relevant organisations in South Africa, and support dissemination activities with academic and non-academic audiences.

Key References

Cavallero, L. and Gago, V. (2021). A feminist reading of debt. London: Pluto Press.

James, D. (2021). Life and debt: A view from the south. Economy and Society50(1), 36-56.

Montgomerie, J., & Tepe-Belfrage, D. (2017). Caring for debts: How the household economy exposes the limits of financialisation. Critical Sociology43(4-5), 653-668.

Newman, S. (2017). Financialisation and the financial crisis the case of South Africa. New Agenda: South African Journal of Social and Economic Policy2017(65), 10-14.

Pearson, R., & Elson, D. (2015). Transcending the impact of the financial crisis in the United Kingdom: towards plan F—a feminist economic strategy. Feminist review109(1), 8-30.

Sibeko, B. (2022). A Feminist Approach to Debt. Nawi Afrifem Macroeconomics Collective, January 2022, available here.

Further details about the project may be obtained from

Principal Supervisor:          Sara Stevano ss129@soas.ac.uk

Co-Supervisor:        Jasmine Gideon j.gideon@bbk.ac.uk

How to Apply

Applicants interested in this award will need to ensure they submit an application for a PhD to the Economics Department for either Economics, Development Economics or International Development.

Further information about PhDs at SOAS university of London is available from: dsadmissions@soas.ac.uk

There is a two-step procedure for applying.

  • Step one, apply for your PhD Programme and be sure to mention that you are applying for the Bloomsbury PhD Studentship

Guidance for applying to a Research Programme and information on makes a complete application can be found here for How to Apply.

If you have any enquiries please contact us below

Email: scholarships@soas.ac.uk

Telephone: 44 (0)207 074 5090

Closing date for applications is: 
3 March 2023