This paper explores the connections between indebtedness, discipline and economic growth in the context of rural Colombia. It investigates the expansion of interest-bearing debt and the transformations that this has elicited on the lives of peasants in the country's most important hub of cocoa production: El Carmen de Chucurí. Within a framework combining agrarian studies, political economy and economic anthropology, the study is based on ethnographic data which allowed a nuanced understanding of the phenomena at play. In order to comply with timely debt repayment, peasants have been forced to adopt “maximizing strategies” based on a specific (capitalist) form of economic rationality, and to extend their work routines at the expense of their health. Theoretically, I argue that these transformations of their mindsets and bodies, respectively, can be understood as part of the overarching disciplining effects of debt. In particular, the changes brought about by debt have materialized in a renewed push towards increasing cocoa's productivity and profitability. By focusing on the consequences of indebtedness on the debtors' lives, this paper challenges the conventional idea that economic growth is only the outcome of a “natural desire” for improvement. Instead, rising productivity of cocoa can also be read as the result of a compulsion for growth in order to repay loans. This has important implications for analysing the rise and evolution of capitalism. In advancing some of its key imperatives (i.e. accumulation and profit maximization), debt repayment can be seen as a major channel for the reproduction of capitalism in the countryside.

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Journal of Rural Studies
International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)

Arango Vásquez, L. (Lorenza). (2020). If you don't owe, you don't own: debt, discipline and growth in rural Colombia. Journal of Rural Studies, 78, 271–281. doi:10.1016/j.jrurstud.2020.06.025