Bankruptcy and Debt Collection in Liberal Capitalism

Switzerland, 1800–1900
Mischa Suter
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.

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  • 336 pages.
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  • 2021
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  • 978-0-472-12885-3

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  • History of debt, history of everyday life, anthropology of debt, social theory, sociology of debt, nineteenth-century history, history of Switzerland, history of liberalism, bankruptcy, cultural history of law, legal history, economic history, social history, history of capitalism, property relations, European history, German studies, Gottfried Keller, Wilhelm Weitling, material culture, moral economy, liberal capitalism, legal anthropology, seizure, collateral, legal cultures, gender history, pauperism, debt studies, actor-network theory