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Housing, debt, and credit score classification situations: What the unique ‘situation’ of mortgage prisoners reveals about contemporary class inequality

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The expansion of debt-leveraged homeownership in Anglo-capitalist economies – including the US, UK and Australia – has created powerful stratifying effects, which prevailing critical Marxist and asset-based stratification accounts assert are reconfiguring class inequalities. While the Marxist account contends that altered class relations are centred on bifurcations between creditors and debtors, the asset-based one constructs typologies of differing relationships to asset ownership. This paper challenges this for insufficiently acknowledging the role of classificatory credit scoring systems within credit markets in unequally shaping access to debt and subsequently, housing; and the interest-bearing consequences. Drawing on a qualitative case study of 28 interviews with ‘mortgage prisoners’, existing borrowers unable to remortgage even if up to date with payments, and proceeding in close conversation with Fourcade and Healy’s (2013, 2017) notion of “classification situations”, I examine how mortgage prisoners’ credit score situation impacts their capacity to (re)access debt-leveraged housing. The results demonstrate: mortgage prisoners’ credit score situation dominates their experience of homeownership; many are hyperaware of their credit score and internalise its moralistic valuation; and some are resigned to or defeated by its apparent impermeability. Examining the mortgage prisoners’ case enhances critical Marxist and asset-based accounts by highlighting the complexity of financialised housing systems and how it impacts stratification and life chances.



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Information, Communication & Society

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