The Moral Economy of Thrift: The Production of the Indebted Self in the Reality Series Getting out of Debt and Life or Debt


  • Silke Meyer University of Innsbruck



Debts, debt discourse, reality TV, subjectification, moral economy


In this article, the intersection of the economic and social dimensions of thrift is analysed under the special condition of debt. The debt context serves as a focal glass exposing agents, their social practices and strategies of accumulation capitals with regard to appropriate spending. In order to capture the many layers of thrift, the concept of moral economies is applied. This concept tries to reconcile two seemingly divergent dimensions of human behaviour which can be described as individualistic, calculating and serving a self-interest (economy) on the one hand and community-oriented and benefitting a common good (morality) on the other hand. Starting out with an overview over studies on moral economies in historical and social science since the early 1970s, I will explain the heuristic use of the concept for the case of debts research and apply it to representations of thrift as visualised and popularised in the reality TV shows Raus aus den Schulden (Getting Out of Debt) and Life or Debt. Here, the images of homes are clues for the cultural productions of appropriateness on TV: What are suitable ways of living when in debt? What are adequate scenes of dwelling and narratives of dealing with debts and which normative structures regulate those stories, the perception of the self and potential social exclusion? By examining the TV show as a strong voice in the debt discourse, thrift turns out to be a cornerstone in the internal and external regimes of governing debt in the micropolitics of TV.


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