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Repossessing the Republic: Markets, Morality, and Distressed Property in Ireland

  • Author(s): Coben, Nathan Thomas
  • Advisor(s): Maurer, Bill
  • et al.
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Abstract

This dissertation comes out of an effort to understand the ways people in rural Ireland made new political, legal, and social arrangements when the threat of home repossession became a very real possibility in the wake of an unprecedented real estate crash in the country. Because of the way Irish nationalism emerged in response to the evictions of Irish tenant farmers in the 19th century, the current-day threat of repossession, in which the Irish state often owned many of the loans in threat of repossession, posed a political and social problem to the Irish republic.

In order to examine this problem of property and politics colliding in culturally and historically specific ways, I spent the bulk of my ethnographic research in Irish courtrooms where repossessions of homes were sought by lenders, and in which indebted homeowners marshaled whatever resources they had to either engage with banks to maintain possession of their home, or keep possession by defeating the banks with legal tactics (a much harder proposition). I primarily used observational and interview-based methods of data collection to gather information in and around Irish courts to get a better sense of what people were up to in response to the distressed states of their home ownership and of their faith in the political project of the 21st century Irish republic.

What research showed developing in rural Ireland, and particularly in the border counties of Ireland, was that people were generating a whole host of new ideas, relationships, inequalities, and ideologies around property. These were sometimes new forms were often atavistic and shrouded with a sense of historicity and traditionality. Findings include: the growth of a renewed early modern concept of the equity of redemption, new patron-client forms of “friendship,” Herculean efforts to move property around to secure possession of a family home, and opportunistic scams that promised to disappear mortgage debt. The virtues and good-faith intentions of actors in each of these paths of conduct range widely, so I analyze them on their own terms as different models of social action—the material and discursive practices through which people leveraged ideas and relations about their world (whether viewed very locally, globally, or conspiratorially) as means to achieve temporary, relational ends.

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This item is under embargo until September 10, 2025.