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Alejandro Marambio-Tapia

Thesis working title - ‘The retail-banking expansion in Chile and the 'democratisation' of credit: juggling with cards, aspirations, and moralities’.


This project addresses how Chilean households are dealing with the retail-led 'democratisation' of credit that the neoliberal Chilean society has experienced from 20 years ago.

Credit is seen here as a bundle of practices (banking credit cards, store cards, small loans, consumer credit, student loans, borrowing clubs, deferred payment shopping), and tied to other practices related, as household budgeting. These practices are set in everyday lives of households, rather than in consumption 'fever' or in another sovereign consumer accounts.

Credit expansion has had a broader impact in how socio-economic relationships have been negotiated and assessed in Chilean society.

From this data emerge moral beliefs about when and how to use credit; survivor narratives to and thanks to credit; diverse perceptions about how society works and how the collective and the individual must be understood in society; personal and familiar narratives of social mobility with a changing and unprecedented view of poverty and middle class aspirations; a process of re-shaping of the subjective experience and social assessment of economic inequalities; accounts of opposed rationalities between debtors and lenders, and between credit users and financial education providers; and an ambivalent moral assessment about credit itself.

The project relies on data collected in 2015 from 47 in-depth interviews with Chilean head of households from lower and lower-middle income groups, and also in statistical analysis which allows to deploy overall trends regarding debt, credit and microfinances. I pay special attention to the 'post-industrial working class' and 'micro-entrepreneurs', the last groups entering the credit expansion.

Academic supervisors

Planned submission date


Project overview

My focus here is on the experience of households who have contradictory everyday encounters with credit, in a country of the Global South.

There, underlying assumptions of the retrenchment of the welfare state are not entirely suitable. Debt careers are analysed here in a context of economic growth and structural modernisation.

I suggest that the lower and middle-income families in Chile build a frame of ethics and values concerning their credit practices, and this frame is made up of a family inheritance, but also of ‘lessons from past troubles’ which gave them a particular set of knowledge and meanings. Thanks to this process, households elaborate a set of moral assessments and justifications, and also a set rationalities around the credit management. This set also includes budgeting and shopping practices, indeed.

Depending on the 'goodness or badness' credit can be perceived as an asset or as a burden, empowerment or exploitation; and can be used to pursue a 'decent life', a 'proper parenthood’, or social mobility. The expansion in the access to good and services in Chile can be related to the economic growth, but also to the expansion of credit and the availability of banking services. In 1991, credit cards in circulation were 890,481; in 2013, 22 million, mainly department store cards.

Department stores, supermarkets, home improvement stores, pharmacies, shoes stores, amongst other, became part of the financial-retail from the middle 1990s. Store credit cards are used to purchase items in-store but also as a way of leverage resources in the form of consumer credit and withdrawals from cash machines. Financial-retail is easier to access for groups usually excluded by banks. However, this came with higher fees, the maximum interest rates, and hidden costs.

It was the financialization of consumption and the democratisation of credit for low-income groups, housewives, retired, and students. The store card ratio is one per inhabitant, and in an average month, more than 5 million cards are used monthly - in a 17 million population country. Around 77% of the active credit cards is issued by retailers. 50% of Chilean households is in debt with the retail-banking. In some groups such as the Post-Industrial Working Class and the Precariat, it can reach 65% A substantive relationship between households and credit is embedded in a moral sense and the corresponding ethic.

Credit is seen in households as a ‘sensible act’ in situations where family ties and the project of decent life emotional economy may be at stake. Gifts, aspirations, family projects occur through credit practices, and cannot be invisible in family dynamics. Otherwise, according to households, discipline, responsibility, and order are essential in the ethics matrix of credit users that prevents social dramas and allow a proper credit management. In theoretical terms, I place my research in the discussion about how the economic practices are embedded in social, moral and cultural, and how the economy exert influence on them, as well.

The interplay between the financialisation of consumption and the domestication of finances is relevant. This project is also looking for a deeper understanding of micro-processes of social action and interaction with structural features of economic life. So, to understand the social constraints of indebtedness has to take into account the ability of human actors to form purposes and meanings even if this can be constrained in several ways. Practices theory offers help in this.

Research interests

Economic sociology; credit, money, debt; sociology of consumption; politics of consumption, financial literacy, ordinary consumption, public policy and consumption; class and economic practices, middle classes, social mobility, class consciousness; mixed methods; sociology of the media and public opinion; science dissemination, outreach.


Marambio, A.; “Endeudamiento y retailización como proyectos de movilidad social”, en Fundación para la Superación de la Pobreza, “Tesis País 2013: Piensa un país sin pobreza”, Santiago de Chile, 2014.

Marambio, A.; “Bancarización, crédito y endeudamiento en grupos medios urbanos: tácticas de acceso, diferenciación social y el espejismo de la movilidad”; Edición del Observatorio Nacional del Consumo, Santiago de Chile, 2012.

Marambio, A. [et al.]; “Asesoría a radios Santa María de Coyhaique AM, Aysén AM y Fundadores FM del vicariato apostólico de Aysén”, Ediciones Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Facultad de Comunicaciones, Escuela de Periodismo, Santiago de Chile, 2001.

Conference presentations

  • “The retail-banking expansion in Chile and the ‘democratisation’ of credit: juggling with cards, aspirations, and moralities”, paper presentation, BSA Conference, Birmingham, 2016
  • “The financialisation of consumption and the ‘democratisation’ of credit: how credit practices have changed the lives of Chilean households”, paper presentation, Chilean Seminar Series, 2016
  • “The retail-banking expansion in Chile and the ‘democratisation’ of credit practices: juggling with threats, opportunities, and the unavoidable”, paper presentation, Debt Trails Conference, Budapest, 2016
  • “Debt Careers: moralities and rationalities in the Chilean credit expansion”, Pecha Kucha presentation, Manchester Sociology Workshops, Manchester, 2016
  • “Living in Debt: the credit expansion practices in the neoliberal Chile”, poster, Methods Fair, Manchester, 2014
  • “Living in Debt: the credit expansion practices in the neoliberal Chile”, poster, Pilas Annual Conference 2014, Sheffield, 2014
  • “Endeudamiento y bancarización como proyectos de movilidad en clases medias urbanas de Santiago de Chile”, III Seminario-Taller Investigación histórica y etnográfica sobre las clases medias, IDES Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2012
  • “Endeudamiento y retailización en las clases medias: vulnerabilidad y el espejismo de la movilidad”, Primeras Jornadas Clases Medias en Chile y América Latina: los sujetos pendientes, Universidad de Chile, Santiago, 2012.
  • “Bancarización y endeudamiento en grupos medios urbanos de Chile”, VII Jornadas de Sociología, Universidad Nacional General Sarmiento, Buenos Aries, Argentina, 2012.

Teaching experience

  • Teaching Assistant Work, Organisations and Society, The University of Manchester, UK / 2016
  • Teaching Assistant Foundations of Social Thought, The University of Manchester, UK / 2015  
  • Lecturer Economic Sociology, Universidad Andrés Bello, Chile / 2015
  • Teaching Assistant, From Modernity to Post-Modernity, The University of Manchester, UK / 2014
  • Teaching Assistant Social Statistics, Universidad Mayor, Chile / 2014
  • Lecturer Science Communication, Universidad de Chile / 2014 y 2015
  • Lecturer Political Foundations of Social Life, Universidad Santo Tomás, Chile / 2012

Scholarships, grant awards and prizes

  • “Tesis País” award publishing 2013, Poverty Foundation, Santiago, Chile “Becas Chile” Scholarship, Chilean Government, 2013-2017.
  • First Place, postgraduated category in “Thesis about Consumption” contest, Observatorio Nacional del Consumo, Santiago, Chile, May 2012.
  • Higher Education Grant-Mineduc, Chilean Government, 1998-2001.

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