Bound by Default: Homeowners, Lenders, and the U.S. Foreclosure Crisis

Mortgage crisis California photo by Noelle Stout

A housing development in the Sacramento Valley left unfinished after the mortgage debacle.

In 2007, the United States witnessed an acute spike in home foreclosures linked to a glut of subprime lending. The ensuing mortgage crash would result in over 14 million foreclosures, the highest rate of default in national history.

Based on nearly two years of research among homeowners and lending employees in California’s Sacramento Valley, one of the hardest-hit regions in the nation, my study investigates how expectations of reciprocity and mutual aid flourished as highly financialized mortgage markets crashed. My research advances a totemic anthropological inquiry regarding credit–debt relations: what role does unpaid debt play in fostering social obligations?


Learn more about my research in my articles:

Petitioning a Giant: Debt, Reciprocity, and Mortgage Modification in the Sacramento Valley American Ethnologist 43(1)

#Indebted: Disciplining the Moral Valence of Mortgage Debt Online Cultural Anthropology 31(1)

Generating Home Theorizing the Contemporary Series, Laura Bear, Karen Ho, Anna Tsing, Sylvia Yanagisako, eds. Cultural Anthropology


My project has benefited from the generous support of the American Council of Learned Societies, the Center for Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, the National Science Foundation, the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, the Department of Anthropology at UC Davis, a Goddard Faculty Fellowship, and the University Research Challenge Fund at NYU.