We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. By continuing to browse this repository, you give consent for essential cookies to be used. You can read more about our Privacy and Cookie Policy.

Durham Research Online
You are in:

Debt, discipline and government : foreclosure and forbearance in the subprime mortgage crisis.

Langley, P. (2009) 'Debt, discipline and government : foreclosure and forbearance in the subprime mortgage crisis.', Environment and planning A., 41 (6). pp. 1404-1419.


The extensive punishment of debtors through foreclosure, and federal and state support for forbearance by lenders and loan servicers, are key features of the subprime mortgage crisis in the United States of America. From a Foucauldian perspective, foreclosure and forbearance give rise to questions about the production and reproduction of subprime mortgage debt through disciplinary and governmental power relations—questions that are neglected in the dominant understanding of subprime as an anomalous and unregulated market realm where predatory lenders preyed on borrowers. In addressing these questions I make a two-stage argument. First, I show subprime to have been largely unexceptional in the ways in which it was governed as a legitimate and highly profitable part of a mass mortgage market prior to the crisis: legal processes of foreclosure combined with disciplinary technologies for the calculation of risk and the calling up of responsible, entrepreneurial, and self-disciplined financial subjects. Second, it follows that forbearance, as an apparently progressive response to the crisis, is actually deeply ambivalent and more politically problematic than activists and supporters typically acknowledge. Forbearance does suspend disciplinary norms, opening up space for disagreement over whether lenders should be coresponsible with borrowers for the reproduction of mortgages into the future. But, simultaneously, forbearance closes down the prospects for coresponsibility beyond immediate debt rescheduling, and reinforces the legal, calculative, and self-disciplinary operation of power.

Item Type:Article
Full text:(AM) Accepted Manuscript
Download PDF
Publisher Web site:
Publisher statement:P.Langley 2009. The definitive peer-reviewed and edited version of this article is published in Environment and Planning A, 41(6), 1404–1419, 10.1068/a41322
Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:06 September 2013
Date of first online publication:2009
Date first made open access:No date available

Save or Share this output

Look up in GoogleScholar