Published online by Cambridge University Press: 27 September 2019
Chapter 7 anchors reputation and individual worth to the body. Debt transformed bodies, from able working bodies to corpses, into forms of transmutable value, placing middling people’s liberty at risk. Though being in debt was a ubiquitous feature of life for most individuals, debt became embodied especially at the moment of default. When a debtor failed to pay, British law gave creditors the power to arrest their debtors’ persons, and during that moment of arrest, the debtor’s body was substituted for the value of the debt owed, temporarily assigning it a cash value. Thus, the confinement of debtors created a conceptual slippage between persons and things, with significant implications for notions of selfhood and independence. The chapter explores the consequences of the embodiment of debt in terms of mobility within the British Atlantic world and argues that imprisonment was part of a much wider cultural transition in which selfhood and objecthood became confused.