In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Financial Geographies of Debt and Crisis

  • Introduction
  • Overviews
  • Journals
  • Data, Statistics, and Resources

Geography Financial Geographies of Debt and Crisis
Jayson J. Funke
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 June 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0115


Debt and crises have become defining features of the contemporary global economy. Geographic scholarship on debt and crises is typically subsumed within economic geography and the geography of finance. Geographers have helped increase our understanding of the spatial dynamics of finance, debt, and crises by demonstrating their network linkages and uneven geographies and by highlighting the importance of scale in understanding financial crises and systems. Much geographic work on debt and crises has drawn on the Marxist political economy framework of David Harvey. Harvey’s spatialization of Marxist crisis theories was particularly important, especially his elaborations on the contradictions of capitalism (uneven development, over-accumulation, etc.) and the resulting tendency toward crises of accumulation that manifest geographically (i.e., imperialism) and socially (class conflict via fiscal austerity, for example). Capitalist crises of accumulation manifest in “spatial-temporal fixes,” Harvey’s term for different forms of socio-spatial (re)organization that serve to temporarily manage crisis via the geographic dispersal of capital (capital switching) and of crisis effects (such as devaluation). Harvey’s work has helped develop and sustain a body of critical geographic scholarship on the political economy of debt and crises, which has been augmented more recently by cultural political economy approaches, drawing frequently on the work of Michel Foucault, that tends to center on the financialization of global capitalism. Geographic work on debt and crises can be grouped into three broad and interrelated themes. The first theme is concerned with theoretically contextualizing debt and crises, especially within the contemporary nexus of capitalist power relations and governance and the broader imperative of managing global economic growth and crises under financialization. The second theme tends to focus on the socio-spatial effects of uneven development under financialization and globalization (i.e., the spatial allocation of credit and debt, for example). This work highlights the importance of geographic scale (local real estate markets and global mortgage markets, so-called glocalization), social networks, and institutional practices and financialized technologies of risk management. Researchers typically use case studies to demonstrate how different groups of people (communities, women, institutions, regions, etc.) and identities are affected. The third theme explores the linkages among financial flows, crises, and the built environment (especially urban systems, mortgage markets, etc.). Geographic work on credit provision and risk management practices situates spaces of financial exclusion and inclusion particularly in urban environments, where case studies reveal spatial patterns of racial, gendered, and class-based redlining (credit exclusion) and predatory lending (exploitative inclusion).


Several informative overviews of debt crises are available, especially the sovereign debt and currency crises among developing economies that have taken place since the 1980s, as well as a burgeoning literature on the 2007–2009 financial crisis. However, most of the existing research is Western-centric in focus. Geographic scholarship has emphasized the importance of having a spatial-temporal understanding of long-term deployment of crisis dynamics in multiple places and scales. Much of the geographic literature on debt and crises is theoretically rooted in Marxist political economy and depicts the geographic and class-based imperatives of financial globalization through uneven development, spatial-temporal fixes, financialization, and the forms of contemporary imperialism underlying core-periphery geopolitics. Dymski 2011 provides one of the most comprehensive political economy accounts of international debt and crises since the 1980s. Much of this work links increasing levels of debt and crises with the rise of the neoliberal policy regime and the global exertion of class power as a political response to the economic crises of the 1970s (Leyshon and Thrift 1993). Research has shown how neoliberal policies served the interests of global financial capital by geographically, temporally, and socially opening new markets (exploiting uneven development) and displacing the crisis effects of risky investments undertaken by financiers (French, et al. 2009). The geopolitical nature of international capital flows is poignantly demonstrated in scholarship on the spatial nature of the 1980s Third World debt crisis, which revealed the uneven geography of the world economy, global credit provision, and indebtedness (Simon 2009). Meanwhile, Glassman 2003 explores the 1990s Asian financial crises through neo-Marxist crisis theories, revealing the global geography of uneven development and power relations. Webber 2001 explores the flows of transnational capital underlying the 1990s Asian financial crises, while Seo 2013 fuses together different critical approaches to provide a fresh and interesting analysis of the 1997 Korean crisis.

  • Dymski, Gary. “The International Debt Crisis.” In The Handbook of Globalisation. Edited by Jonathan Michie, 117–134. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2011.

    DOI: 10.4337/9780857931443

    A work that constitues one of the most comprehensive summaries of events and scholarly analyses of global debt cycles and crises since the 1980s, including the 2007–2009 financial crisis. Useful introduction for undergraduates, scholars, and the general public.

  • French, Shaun, Andrew Leyshon, and Nigel Thrift. “A Very Geographical Crisis: The Making and Breaking of the 2007–08 Financial Crisis.” Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 2.2 (2009): 287–303.

    DOI: 10.1093/cjres/rsp013

    Authors demonstrate the importance of place, scale, uneven development, and institutional/cultural variations in the unraveling of the 2007–2008 financial crisis. Locates crisis through four geographical prisms: financial centers, the quotidian geographies of money, the global geo-economics and geopolitics of money, and the financial media.

  • Glassman, Jim. “The Spaces of Economic Crisis: Asia and the Reconfiguration of Neo-Marxist Crisis Theory.” Studies in Comparative International Development 37.4 (2003): 31–63.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF02686271

    Glassman explores the 1990s Asian financial crisis through the lens of uneven development and neo-Marxist crisis theory to define why crises occur in certain places.

  • Harvey, David. The Limits to Capital. London: Verso, 2007.

    The classic geographic theorization of Marxist political economy that covers the process of capitalist crisis formation and the crises of credit and finance. Essential reading for critical audience.

  • Leyshon, Andrew, and Nigel Thrift. “The Restructuring of the U.K. Financial Services Industry in the 1990s: A Reversal of Fortune?” Journal of Rural Studies 9.3 (1993): 223–241.

    DOI: 10.1016/0743-0167(93)90068-U

    Explores the financial restructuring of national spaces driven by financial globalization. Identifies four motifs of the global financial structure: heightened levels of competition, more sophisticated means of credit provision, increased financial volatility, and innovative financial risk management technologies and practices.

  • Seo, Bongman. “Socio-spatial Dialectics of Crisis Formation and the 1997 Crisis in Korea.” Geoforum 45 (2013): 156–167.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2012.10.014

    An insightful and alternative analysis that weaves together Marxist and neo-Marxist crisis theories with a Minskyian-influenced exploration of the Korean financial crisis.

  • Simon, D. “Debt.” In International Encyclopedia of Human Geography. Edited by Rob Kitchin and Nigel Thrift, 16–22. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2009.

    Straightforward introduction to the 1980s debt crisis in peripheral economies. Nice synopsis complete with statistics, glossary of key terms, and bibliography that is useful for a general introduction and audience.

  • Webber, M. “Finance and the Real Economy: Theoretical Implications of the Financial Crisis in Asia.” Geoforum 32.1 (2001): 1–13.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0016-7185(00)00036-1

    Explores and critiques mainstream economic explanations of the Asian financial crisis during the late 1990s. Argues that the crisis resulted from massive international flows of “hot money” (speculative bets involving fluctuating currency prices) seeking arbitrage profits in the region.

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