Cover of The Indebted Woman by Isabelle Guérin, Santosh Kumar, and G. Venkatasubramanian
The Indebted Woman
Kinship, Sexuality, and Capitalism
Isabelle Guérin, Santosh Kumar, and G. Venkatasubramanian


September 2023
248 pages.
from $25.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503636316
Paperback ISBN: 9781503636903
Ebook ISBN: 9781503636910

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Women, and particularly poor women, have become essential cogs in the wheel of financialized capitalism. Globally, women are responsible for managing household debt, and that debt has exploded over the last decade, reaching an all-time high after the COVID-19 pandemic. Across various categories of loans, including subprime lending, microcredit policies, and consumer loans, as well as rent and utilities, women are overrepresented as clients and managers, and are being enfolded into the system. The Indebted Woman discusses the crucial yet invisible roles poor women play in making and consolidating debt and credit markets. Isabelle Guérin, Santosh Kumar, and G. Venkatasubramanian spent over two decades observing a credit market that specifically targets women in the Indian countryside of east-central Tamil Nadu. They found that paying off debts required labor, frequently involved sexual transactions, and shaped women's bodies and subjectivities. Bringing together ethnography, statistical surveys, and financial diaries, they offer for the first time a comprehensive theory for this sexual division of debt that goes far beyond the Indian case, exposing the ways capitalism transforms womanhood and how this transformation in turn fuels capitalism.

About the authors

Isabelle Guérin is Senior Research Fellow at the French Institute of Research for Sustainable Development, and Associate at the French Institute of Pondicherry.

Santosh Kumar is a part-time researcher and founder and head of the Mithralaya School of music, dance, and arts.

G. Venkatasubramanian has been a sociologist and Research Fellow at the French Institute of Pondicherry for the past thirty-five years.

"This book is pathbreaking in the most literal sense: it opens the way for more studies of women and debt as central features of capitalist economies. It gives insight into the ways in which the reproduction of capital depends on women's reproductive labor as household debt managers, but also into the ways in which they strategically navigate the system."

—Joan W. Scott, Princeton University

"With gripping evidence and theoretical acumen, Guerin, Kumar, and Venkatubramanian reframe our understandings of the debt economy. By foregrounding the deeply gendered labor of debt, The Indebted Woman launches a new research agenda. A book that transcends disciplinary boundaries and moves forward the analysis of intimate economies."

—Viviana A. Zelizer, author of The Purchase of Intimacy and Economic Lives: How Culture Shapes the Economy

"The Indebted Woman is a compact account of the credit markets in South Arcot, and in particular their disproportionate effect on Dalit women.... Where the book shines is in its conscientious economic research, awakening readers to the lived experiences of Dalit women and their invisible and indispensable role in the South Indian economy."

—Annelie Hyatt, Columbia Journal of Literary Criticism

"The Indebted Woman is a groundbreaking exploration of the relationships between capitalism, patriarchy, and female debt."

—Maryann Bylander, The Developing Economies