Recent Award

Doctoral Dissertation Research: Forgive Us Our Debts: Market Expansion, Ethno-Racial Boundaries, and the Democratization of Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy has long been a locus of struggle over whom is morally worthy of an economic rebirth. Early twentieth century America, as a key period of expanding credit markets and the institutionalization of bankruptcy, wrestled with these tensions. In particular, the Bankruptcy Act of 1898 unexpectedly resulted in skyrocketing personal bankruptcy filing rates, which helped to solidify the perception of bankruptcy as a means for the working person?s economic rebirth. Concurrent to this transformation, rising Southern and Eastern European immigration and the African American Great Migration led to a reconfiguration of America?s ethno-racial boundaries, including whom was deserving of credit. While prior research investigates these transformations as independent processes, scholarship has not examined disparities in bankruptcy access and outcomes along socio-economic and ethno-racial lines. By examining the expansion of bankruptcy in conjunction with rising non-Anglo migration, this project will shed light on how Americans delineated whom was worthy of a second chance through bankruptcy.

This project investigates the transformation in the practice and discursive boundaries of deservingness in bankruptcy in America from 1880 to 1940. Drawing from rarely utilized bankruptcy records, in conjunction with census records, this research will quantitatively examine variation in bankruptcy practice, along the axes of ethnicity and race, socio-economic status, and state credit policy. This project will also engage in qualitative and quantitative discourse analyses of how social actors conceived of bankruptcy. Specifically, this dissertation?s aims are fourfold: to understand how state-level credit policy regimes affected why individuals filed for bankruptcy; to analyze how the socio-economic status and ethno-racial backgrounds of bankrupts changed over time; to examine how recovery from bankruptcy varied by socio-economic status and ethno-racial background; and to probe how these changes in the practice of bankruptcy relates to changing moral conceptions of credit, debt, and bankruptcy in American society. This study has the potential to advance social scientific understanding of how market expansion can coexist with the institutionalization of ethno-racial boundaries of worth.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2020 to Friday, June 30, 2023

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