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Friday 20 May, 4.30 pm

Reciprocity: materiality and technicality in credit transactions

Syed Mohammed Faisal, University of Sussex

This event is free, but places must be booked. To book tickets please go to: http://syedmohammedfaisal.eventbrite.co.uk

The aim of the paper is to understand Islamic norms and their limits in everyday credit transactions. I will be looking at transactions done by and through an Islamic Bank, Janseva, in Udupi, Karnataka, India. Through my ethnography of credit flows, processes of securing and giving loans, securities, and social networks responsible for guarantees in different cases, I will try to explore the role of material and technical factors in anchoring credit exchanges. The products and things which attract credit, for example coconut, commercial vehicles, land and highly perishable materials like fish and vegetables, shape credit-flows as much as norms which govern them. Moreover, these norms swing from being directives of action to technical tools in transactions.  As tools they are subverted and dodged in practice through accounting practices and sometimes with social pressure.

I will follow Marcel Mauss’ understanding of reciprocity in gift exchange that morality is embedded in any transaction by virtue of it being exchange of things between people. Going a step forward, I will try to explicate what makes people betray moral frames of references. These creditors and debtors, at times, defy the textual injunctions of Islam, while social pressure of community and networks kinship also influence credit transactions. However, people continuously defend, repent and try to be Islamic. By accounting for the influence of materials on Islamic norms and the eclectic sources of practices in Udupi I argue, that the limits inherent in materials and tools may help us to understand the ambiguity and diversity of moral frames in credit exchanges.