Miranda Joseph: Debt to Society: Accounting for Life Under Capitalism.

Author:Malak, Karim
Position::Book review

Miranda Joseph Debt to Society: Accounting for Life Under Capitalism, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2014; 224 pp.: ISBN 0816687447, 18.50 [pounds sterling]

Miranda Joseph's Debt to Society: Accounting for Life under Capitalism tackles a necessary technology of capitalism: accounting. Her goal is to explore the process of abstraction and particularization that occurs when one counts one's worth--value--and writes it onto a ledger. Such an endeavour is timely. Joseph's book can be read as engaging the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS), the study of science outside its putative authority. The book implicitly reminds us that the stakes do not solely concern with totality as some Marxist scholars would argue. Yet Joseph does not 'wish to take up the totality debate here' (p. 14). As a result, she misses the opportunity to make an intervention into the study of capitalism. Consequently, she fails to remind us that totality comes at the expense of more significant micro-processes of capitalism such as accounting.

Chapter 1 begins with Joseph laying her theoretical framework that deals with debt. Joseph takes Althusser's incitement that 'ideology has no history' (p. x) and likewise states that debt may have no history, but that indebtedness does. This dedication to taking finance seriously, as opposed to an 'aberration', is welcome. Debt can thus be seen as immanent (p. 2) since one person's credit is another's debt. Joseph is quick to negate any critique of abstraction as aberration, and the case for a naturalist pre-capitalist society is rendered one-sided. For Joseph, 'the crucial point remains that concrete particularities are the products and bearers of abstract social processes' (p. 14). Joseph is aware of the rejoinder to that argument: fetishization of the abstract and rendering it as vivified, reminding us that the claim that taking abstraction as concrete can also be misleading.

Chapter 2 discusses how calculation is deployed in the prison system. Locating mandatory minimum sentencing laws that began in the 1970s, Joseph discusses how accounting supplants the penitentiary system. Drawing on 'critical accounting scholars', Joseph proposes creative accounting that records particular elements which ought to emphasise justice. In other words, 'rather than reject accounting, might we identify practices that would enable justice?' (p. 58).

Chapter 3 tackles the question of how accounting imposes a temporal scheme. Drawing on...

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