Research

 

You will find a complete range of our monographs, muti-authored and edited works including peer-reviewed, original scholarly research across the social sciences and aligned disciplines. We publish long and short form research and you can browse the complete Bristol University Press and Policy Press archive of over 1,500 titles.

Policy Press also publishes policy reviews and polemic work which aim to challenge policy and practice in certain fields. These books have a practitioner in mind and are practical, accessible in style, as well as being academically sound and referenced.
 

Books: Research

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Modern Slavery in Society

Available Open Access digitally under CC-BY-NC-ND licence.

This book offers a theory of trafficking and modern slavery with implications for policy. Despite economic development, modern slavery persists all around the world. The issue is not only one of crime but the regulation of the economy, better welfare and social protections.

Going beyond polarised debates on the sex trade, an original empirical analysis shows the importance of profit-taking. Although individual experience matters, the root causes lie in intersecting regimes of inequality of gender regimes, capitalism, and the legacies of colonialism. This book shows the importance of coercion and the societal complexities that perpetuate modern slavery.

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The book offers a theory of trafficking and modern slavery with implications for policy through an analysis of evidence, data, and law. Despite economic development, modern slavery persists all around the world. The book challenges the current fragmentation of theory and develops a synthesis of the root causes of trafficking chains. Trafficking concerns not only situations of vulnerability but their exploitation driven by profit-taking. The policy solution is not merely to treat the issue as one of crime but also concerns the regulation of the economy, better welfare, and social protections. Although data is incomplete, methods are improving to indicate its scale and distribution. Traditional assumptions of nation-state sovereignty are challenged by the significance of international law historically. Going beyond the polarization of the debates on sexual exploitation in the sex trade, the book offers an original empirical analysis that shows the importance of a focus on profit-taking. Although individual experience matters, the root causes of trafficking/modern slavery lie in intersecting regimes of inequality of gender regimes, capitalism, and the legacies of colonialism. The book shows the importance of coercion and theorizing society as a complex system.

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This chapter closely examines the meeting between the Personal Insolvency Practitioner and the debtor who wishes to be made insolvent. From a distance, this appears to be a bureaucratic meeting based on rules, but in reality it is a carefully negotiated series of micro-interactions that takes the form of a Foucauldian confession.

The practitioner lacks the time or resources to fully investigate the financial case of each client. Instead, they bring the debtor to their office and ask them to explain everything that has happened in the form of a moral story, seeking to gauge how contrite and apologetic the debtor is. A strong element of class and gender emerges here, with working-class debtors attempting to placate the middle-class gaze of the practitioner, while women must choose to either adopt or resist the negative stereotypes associated with women in financial distress.

This chapter unravels the implications this has for the governmentality of debt and debtors as they navigate this system and are increasingly pushed to embody entrepreneurial norms and become responsibilized subjects.

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This chapter explores those who are successful in their application for insolvency and unpacks how this process works in detail. Once the debtor has the support of an insolvency practitioner, their chances of success increase significantly. They first apply (and get) a protective certificate, a legal instrument that prevents creditors from contacting them and gives breathing space to lodge a full application. This application will involve a 3–6-year insolvency programme where the debtor must live on a mandatory limited budget called their Reasonable Living Expenses. This is the subject of considerable negotiation between the debtor, the practitioner, and creditors. If creditors dislike the proposed arrangement, they may veto it, though this can also be overturned at a court review. In this chapter we meet the rare few who are successful in this process. In doing so, we see how they use the language of salvation to describe the feeling of being relieved from their debt burdens. This is often summarized using the phrase ‘clean slate’.

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The conclusion summarizes the main arguments for the reader and considers whether it is possible for us to thrive beyond debt. The key takeaways of the book are the power of the lived experience approach, which enables us to see the debt relief process through the eyes of those who have really been there. The economic theology approach has also enabled us to explain some of the seemingly irrational behaviour of debtors by seeing it through a moral and theological lens.

The book concludes by arguing that in addition to a new jubilee (a mass cancellation of debt), we must support a reform in the systems of debt relief. Cancelling debt without such reforms would simply land us back in the same position again in the future, repeating the cycle. Key to this reform is a renewed perception of debt relief as an instrument of welfare. We have destigmatized lending but without destigmatizing bankruptcy, with disastrous results.

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After being rejected for an insolvency arrangement, a mortgage holder is left in a difficult and precarious position. They are unwilling to give up and allow repossession, but they cannot recover. This is situated through Berlant’s cruel optimism, where the object of our desire is ultimately harmful to our flourishing. Debtors remember the dream they had (see Chapter 3) of a good life, and it is this belief that they can recapture this vision of a good life which encourages them not to give up.

Girard’s concepts of mimesis, scapegoating, and sacrifice are used to explain how debtors engage in the coping process. They come to believe that there are dishonest debtors out there who are living the good life thanks to their dishonesty. Some of these debtors come to believe that some mortgagors must be sacrificed through eviction in order for the system to remain stable. Others become determined to resist neoliberal norms and begin to adopt a destructive and toxic attitude towards their creditors. For example, they often refuse to pay even though they are able, coming to willingly embody the creditor stereotype of the professional or reckless debtor.

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Using Montgomerie’s conceptualization of the deluge, this chapter explores the political economy of debt, followed by unpacking debt relief, including what it is and how it operates within liberal market economies. Echoing the work of political economists, I argue that the neoliberal turn of the 1970s led to a rapid growth in debt loads as wages stagnated and assets (particularly housing) inflated to compensate. This has led to such a deluge of debt that we now borrow even to pay rent.

Following this, the second part of the chapter charts how the liberalization of lending was accompanied by a reform of debt relief. The common features of these reforms are outlined and hegemonic arguments against debt relief are considered, such as the belief that bankruptcy has lost its stigma. The chapter concludes that stigma has not only survived, but is also thriving, and serves as a significant obstacle to the effectiveness of debt relief. This often manifests in a ‘dirty’ rather than a ‘fresh’ start for the borrower, because debtors are so reluctant to go bankrupt that they delay the process until long after the costs exceed the benefits, a phenomenon captured by the term ‘sweatbox’.

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This chapter introduces the core arguments of the book, namely that in order to understand debt, we must understand debt relief, and in order to understand debt relief, we must see it from a moral perspective. Debt involves a whole array of non-economic relations, including trust, faith, sin and so on, which is examined throughout from the standpoint of economic theology.

Using a lived experience qualitative approach, the book charts the journey of 18 Irish mortgage holders in debt distress as they attempt to recover and how they face the decision to go insolvent or bankrupt. This introduction establishes what debt relief is and how morality influences debtor decisions to seek debt relief, such as the tendency to rank their debts morally, rather than according to rational economic logic – for example, they often focusing on caring debts (money borrowed to support loved ones) over other kinds of debt (survival, leisure or status), even if this would be financially irrational.

The Irish setting is offered as a case study of how these relations play out in liberal market economies such as the UK or the US.

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The time when the debtor ought to declare bankruptcy but does not do so has come to be called the sweatbox. In this chapter I unpack the experience of the sweatbox through the economic theology of purgatory. Purgatory is a timeless experience where those confined must submit to endless tests and trials to show penitence and reform. Time in the sweatbox has this character, with their willingness to pay in this period being used later during their insolvency application to show how apologetic they truly are.

Eventually, however, their time in the purgatorial sweatbox comes to an end as they accept they need help. Using Foucault’s concept of pastoral power, this chapter covers how debtors choose which experts (or pastors) to listen to. Debt advisors emerge as the key pastor in question, as they give the debtor crucial information and the language they need to navigate their ongoing negotiations with their creditors.

The chapter concludes with debtors investigating insolvency for the first time as they prepare to meet with a Personal Insolvency Practitioner.

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The Lived Experience of Bankruptcy and Redemption
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Capitalism only celebrates success, and it can be difficult to know what to do when confronted with failure.

This book explores what happens when people go broke and what the experience of bankruptcy and insolvency is like from a qualitative perspective. It shows, contrary to the expectations of policy makers, that debt relief is not transactional. Rather, it is moral, theological, social and cultural.

The book demonstrates that debt encompasses fairness, trust, faith, sin, guilt, revelation and confession and that taking these factors seriously is vital to successfully navigating the world of the over-indebted.

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