What’s the charge? Perceptions of blame and responsibility for credit card debt

Claydon, Jane Elizabeth (2014) What’s the charge? Perceptions of blame and responsibility for credit card debt. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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Abstract

The purpose of the research conducted for this thesis was to investigate perceptions of
responsibility and blame for rising levels of consumer debt in the UK, focusing on two key
stakeholder groups often associated with the issues relating to consumer debt: individual
borrowers and consumer credit lenders. Research was conducted with these stakeholders;
debtors represented the individual borrowers and debt collectors from a large multi national
credit card company represented lenders. Three central research questions lay at the heart of the research: what are the respondents’ perceptions of why and how debtors use consumer credit; how are debtors perceived and treated by their creditors (i.e. through contact with debt collectors); what are the respondents’ perceptions of who is to blame for consumer debt?

A mixed method approach was adopted, using primarily qualitative research methods in
accordance with the interpretivist approach of the research. An online survey and in-depth
interviews were adopted for the debtor respondents and focus groups and in-depth interviews were adopted for the debt collector respondents. The debtor respondents were recruited from the National Debt Line website, the biggest online money advice website in the UK, by posting an online survey on the site. The debt collector respondents were recruited from the shared employer of the respondents and the researcher, a large multi national credit card company.

In answer to the research questions, the research revealed that, firstly, the majority of debtor respondents perceived that their consumer credit use was to supplement their low income, which contradicted previous stereotypes of debtors as reckless spendthrifts and, instead, proposed they are agentic rational decision makers. Secondly, debtors were negatively perceived and treated by their creditors (debt collectors) in that they were stigmatised and labelled as deviant. This occurred during the debtors’ social interaction with debt collectors during the debt collection process. In line with the labelling theory of deviance, this societal reaction then led to self-labelling by the debtors, who expressed feelings of shame. Thirdly, therefore, both the debtors and debt collectors primarily blamed the debtor stakeholder group as responsible for increasing levels of consumer debt, although the debtors also placed some of the blame on the creditors for acting unethically in their lending practices, namely by lending irresponsibly to debtors without an accurate assessment of the affordability of the loan.

This thesis makes an original contribution to sociological knowledge of the ways in which blame and responsibility for increasing levels of debt is perceived by different societal groups. A key part of the thesis’ originality exists in its utilisation of concepts drawn from different strands of sociological theory to explore perceptions of debt, in particular the sociology of deviance and symbolic interactionism, such as labeling, stigma and shame.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Law, Politics and Sociology > Sociology
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HG Finance > HG0179 Personal finance
H Social Sciences > HG Finance > HG3691 Credit. Debt. Loans
H Social Sciences > HJ Public Finance > HJ8001 Public debts
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 09 May 2014 06:31
Last Modified: 18 Sep 2015 14:02
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/48302

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