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Goldsmiths - University of London

The subprime middle class: precarious labour, mortgage default, and activism among Ecuadorian migrants in Barcelona

Suarez, Maka. 2017. The subprime middle class: precarious labour, mortgage default, and activism among Ecuadorian migrants in Barcelona. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This dissertation is an ethnographic account of Ecuadorian migrant workers in Barcelona and their aspirations for upward mobility. I take home buying practices in Ecuador and Spain as an ethnographic pivot from which to observe how these aspirations are actualized but also redefined. Through remittance-bought homes or through subprime mortgage loans, Ecuadorian migrants aspired to ‘move forward’. Years later they found themselves unemployed, overly indebted, and foreclosed. The mortgage default processes documented in this dissertation make evident that Ecuadorian migrants were all along pigeonholed into low-skilled jobs, substandard working permits, peripheral neighbourhoods, and expensive mortgage loans. This, I claim, evidences that the only form of middle class they were allowed to aspire to was a subprime middle class.

Placed between the swings of two ‘financial crises’ Ecuadorian migrants are in a unique position to witness how ‘financial capitalism’ is made. How it emerges from concrete forms of livelihood in which precarious labour and predatory lending are enmeshed with a wide range of social relationships. By following people’s own understandings of upward mobility, or what they referred to as ‘moving forward’, I document how this everyday notion intertwines with transnational relations and care practices, labour and citizenship statuses, mortgage indebtedness and default.

This dissertation provides a bottom-up view of the 2008 financial ‘crisis’ from a little explored vantage point, that of subprime migrant debtors. It also offers a view into new forms of social organization against indebtedness. Unemployed and foreclosed Ecuadorians turned to housing activism joining the PAH, Spain’s fastest growing housing social movement. By pooling mortgage debts and contesting over-indebtedness I claim the PAH effectively produced a bottom-up debt jubilee. It also became a space to make sense of economic hardship and default, create new knowledge about indebtedness, and make room for hope and the reconstruction of social relationships.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):

https://doi.org/10.25602/GOLD.00020631

Keywords:

mortgage debt, social movements, Spain, PAH, Ecuadorian migrant workers

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Anthropology

Date:

30 June 2017

Item ID:

20631

Date Deposited:

05 Jul 2017 13:17

Last Modified:

10 Jul 2018 23:35

URI:

http://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/20631

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