ICS Seminar - Adam Sargent

Collateral Damages: The Entanglements of Data and Debt in Digital India

Event Details:

Date and Time: Thursday, 12 May, 11:30am - 1:00pm

Location: Building EZ, Conference Room 1, Parramatta South Campus, Western Sydney University

Chair: Isaac Lyne

Presenter: Adam Sargent

Discussant: Tsvetelina Hristova


This talk uses recent scandals around digital lending in India as an entrĂ©e into an emerging research project investigating the ways that digital lending is transforming landscapes of inequality and practices of livelihood.  Along with the recent explosion in financial technology companies offering legitimate digital loans, there has been a rise in illegitimate lenders.  These so-called “killer loan apps” are developed by quasi-legal companies who engage in aggressive loan recovery tactics that have driven several borrowers to commit suicide. Rather than reading these apps as an aberration, or an unfortunate misstep in the development of an innovative technology, I focus on the larger contexts in which digital lending has emerged and on the recovery tactics that killer loan apps employ.  I argue that the phenomena of killer loan apps, and the strong public outcry that they have elicited, draw attention to new asymmetries of power that characterize digital lending.  Specifically, those that follow from the use of personal data as a form of collateral.  The scandal of killer loan apps takes the potential dangers of data as collateral to one extreme but in so doing diagnoses the potentials of digital loans to engender new and threatening forms of subjugation.


Dr Adam Sargent is a Research Fellow in the Centre of Excellence in Automated Decision-Making and Society.  Trained in cultural anthropology, his research focuses on urbanization, labor, automation, debt, and social inequality in India. He is currently working on a manuscript, Subjects of Construction: Infrastructural Labor and Urban Belonging in the New India, based on his dissertation research with construction workers in New Delhi.  His new research project explores the emergence of algorithmic credit-scoring systems in India and the transformation of everyday relations of debt and structures of social inequality.