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#Indebted: Disciplining the Moral Valence of Mortgage Debt Online

By Noelle Stout

Cite As:
Stout, Noelle. 2015. “#Indebted: Disciplining the Moral Valence of Mortgage Debt Online.” Cultural Anthropology 31, no. 1: 82–106.


The 2008 mortgage crash and the online publics that have emerged in its aftermath have reshaped American interpretations of indebtedness. Combining research among homeowners facing foreclosure in California’s Sacramento Valley with an analysis of the national online forums they frequent, I show how participants rethink the moral scaffolding of debt relations within what I describe as online publics of indebtedness. Anonymous online publics foster experiences of disembodied autonomy that encourage debt refusal and discipline the middle-class ethics of debt abandonment, as participants distinguish between mortgagors who deserve not to pay their debts and those they deem irresponsible for defaulting on their loans. In contrast, participation in semipublic social networks and online forms of publicity emphasizes new affective orientations toward debt obligations. My analysis contributes to an anthropological scholarship on moral economies by exploring the role of distinct forms of new media in shaping everyday experiences of indebtedness in late-capitalist financial markets.


online; publics; debt; moral economies; mortgage default; United States