The Virtual Debt Factory: Towards an Analysis of Debt and Abstraction in the American Credit Crisis

  • Vincent R. Manzerolle Faculty of Information and Media Studies, University of Western Ontario, Canada
Keywords: Credit Industry, Primitive Accumulation, Marxism, Consumption, Neoliberalism, Surveillance, Commodification of Debt.


Emanating from the United States, the ongoing global credit crisis has provided important insights into a shady new area of capitalist exploitation: the consumer debt factory. In an effort to speed up and quantifiably increase the circulation of consumer credit to match the consumption needs of post-Fordist accumulation, this industry—comprising financial institutions, consumer database companies, and credit rating agencies—has created a highly detailed body of information to stand-in for the corporeal self. This paper therefore examines this industry’s conceptualization of the self as a disembodied mechanism for mass-producing debt, creating a highly volatile informational commodity divorced from all material constraints. In using the credit crisis as a focal point, this paper considers how the far-reaching credit apparatus at the heart of the debt factory gives rise to the fatal abstractions that support, and ultimately undermine, contemporary capitalist economies. By substituting data for flesh, the credit industry has created an antagonism between the material and informational forms of the self, resulting in the construction of a virtual debtors prison. The ensuing analysis will highlight both the exploitative nature of this bifurcation as well as its profound contradictions.

Special Issue: Capitalist Crisis, Communication, & Culture