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Accounting for Personal Overindebtedness: Debtors' Accounts in Applications for Debt Relief at the Swedish Enforcement Authority

Journal article
Authors Bengt Larsson
Bengt Jacobsson
Published in Sociological Research Online
Volume 17
Issue 4
ISSN 1360-7804
Publication year 2012
Published at Department of Cultural Sciences
Department of Sociology and Work Science
Language en
Keywords Accounts, Institutional Ethnography, Overindebtedness, Debt Relief, Debt Adjustment, Enforcement Authority
Subject categories Sociology


This paper aims to describe and understand the accounts given in applications for debt relief/adjustment in relation to the 'question situation' that overindebted person stand before in their encounters with Swedish authorities. The analysis is based on the sociology of accounts and is made against the background of previous research on overindebtedness in the Nordic countries. The paper shows that the accounts given by debtors include examples of 'refusals' and 'denials', but mainly comprise narratives and accounts centred around giving 'justifications' and 'excuses' focusing on external circumstances (illness, unemployment, divorce, bankruptcy), helplessness, or a lack of knowledge or intent (others causing the debt, or problems of addiction). The applications also contain some 'concessions', 'pledges' and 'appeals' by which the debtors try to show that they are improving in taking economic responsibility and deserve debt relief. The analysis thereby shows which accounts are considered legitimate, but also that the framing cues defining and delimiting the question situation are too weak to produce uniform forms of accounting. Many applicants for debt relief respond to a wide definition of the question situation - one that relates to self-image and social identity.

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