Debt as a social relation at the intersection of history and anthropology in the precarious economies of nineteenth-century liberalism


Drawing on perspectives from anthropology and social theory, this book explores the quotidian routines of debt collection in nineteenth-century capitalism. It focuses on Switzerland, an exemplary case of liberal rule. Debt collection and bankruptcy relied on received practices until they were standardized in a Swiss federal law in 1889. The vast array of these practices was summarized by the idiomatic Swiss legal term “Rechtstrieb” (literally, “law drive”). Analyzing these forms of summary justice opens a window to the makeshift economies and the contested political imaginaries of nineteenth-century everyday life. Ultimately, the book advances an empirically grounded and theoretically informed history of quotidian legal practices in the everyday economy; it is an argument for studying capitalism from the bottom up.

Mischa Suter is Assistant Professor of Modern History at the University of Basel.