Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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‘Financially Sorted Kiwis’: A critical enquiry into consumer credit scoring systems and subjectivities in New Zealand

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posted on 2021-11-22, 12:43 authored by Copland, Simon Russell

Credit scoring is an automated exercise in predictive analytics deployed by retail lenders and their agents to overcome the perennial problem of the ‘information asymmetries’ existing between debtors and creditors. Credit scoring systematically outperforms ‘subjective’ decision-making by lenders about loan applications, lowering costs and increasing profitability by boosting the speed and consistency of judgements able to be made about credit risk. This system of expert knowledge has emerged as a crucial part of the lending infrastructure and a new ‘core competency’ for lenders. The implications for social subjecthood, however, are underexplored: the extant literature on finance and society says little about credit scoring’s effects as a ‘disciplinary device’ on credit consumers, or how scoring systems might accustom would-be borrowers to conduct and conceive of their lives in particular ways.  My thesis presents findings from an exploratory sociological study of consumer credit scoring systems in New Zealand. It analyses data gathered in 2013 from seventy women and men in focus groups and open-ended individual interviews about their subjective experiences of debt and credit scoring practices. The research fills a gap in critical social inquiry into consumer credit provision by using an interpretive qualitative approach to identify ways in which the commoditised information platforms administered by credit bureaus in New Zealand are involved in the self-understandings of individuals. The study draws on Marxist, Foucaultian and feminist understandings of finance and the consumer-subject to offer a critical reading of participants’ involvement in the workings of the credit economy. I suggest that the systematic surveillance of borrowers by lending institutions through credit bureaus not only implies new forms of economic control and population management, but extends the instrumental rationality of finance into the realm of society and the self. Credit scoring – a market device that operates as an “objective” site of reality construction and revalorisation of productive and exchange relations – hails us as dutiful consumers and citizens from the spaces and rhythms of financial activity. There is also evidence that it operates as a ‘technology of self’, permitting forms of self-administration whereby individuals constitute themselves as particular types of financially viable beings within the wider interpersonal and intersubjective complex of memories, measures, morals, corporeality, obligation, anxiety, and affect.  In this ‘techno-social’ production of the subject, in which credit agencies exist as loci or conduits of governmental intent, individuals located within borrowing collectives can be interpreted variously as: (a) credit subjects, consumers subjectified in service to the debt economy; (b) credit-scoring subjects, hyper-rationalised subjectivating complements to calculative market devices; and (c) creditworthy subjects, cultural obligors forming part of an unruly social unity concerned intersubjectively with emotive and intimate relations with families, co-dependants, employers, colleagues, retailers, credit grantors and institutions. The complex, multifaceted and sometimes contradictory ways in which participants negotiate new knowledges of themselves as sources of profit and governable risks call into question the adequacy of orthodox microeconomic accounts of ‘self-interested’ financial behaviour as a model for economic and social behaviour. They also emphasise how an overly simplistic reliance on the notion of ‘responsibilisation’ in the financialisation of everyday life is evident within some conceptions and critiques of the neoliberal subject. Participants’ experiences and self-understandings, rather, illustrate how the contemporary credit consumer is not simply dominated from above by the structural disciplines of finance capital, but is constituted ascendantly by harnessing individuals’ own capabilities of self-direction and expressions of freedom and desire. What is at stake in the unspoken politics of consumer finance is the targeting of the willing self as the raw material of credit – of the deeper affinities of finance with the discerning and reflexive subject.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Social and Cultural Studies


el-Ojeili, Chamsy; Dew, Kevin