Life after debt: The governmentalities of debt relief

Zach Roche

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To avoid a ‘tsunami’ of repossessions in the years following the global financial crisis, Ireland reformed its system of debt relief in 2013. For the first time Ireland was to have a state-of-the-art system to help debtors discharge their unpayable liabilities, at odds with the punitive Victorian system of bankruptcy which preceded it. While these changes were touted as ground-breaking and innovative, I demonstrate through original qualitative research with debtors, and the Insolvency Service of Ireland's (ISI's) operators that little has changed. When disaster strikes and debtors fall behind on payments, they are encouraged to undergo a process of soul searching and self-criticism involving reflection on their behaviour and finances. This article explores how this governmentalisation of debt and its relief creates responsible financial subjects fit for the market, simultaneously ensuring the stability of the fragile Irish credit system. The insolvency practitioners who run the service advise that only by confessing their wrongdoing (i.e. irresponsible spending), and making lasting change can they become worthy of debt relief.

Original languageEnglish
JournalIrish Journal of Sociology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021


  • Debt
  • economic theology
  • governmentality
  • insolvency
  • ireland


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