The Dignity + Debt Network, a collaboration between Princeton University and the Social Science Research Council, draws together academic researchers, advocates, and practitioners to work across sectors, contexts, and geographies in order to assess the economic and social costs assumed by those who bear debt and to examine the ladders to opportunity that household debt and lending may enable under specific conditions. Unbridled indebtedness forestalls future aspirations, but inclusive financial opportunities can foster social mobility.

Developed and led by Princeton sociologist Frederick F. Wherry, the Dignity + Debt Network draws together data scientists and qualitative researchers in order to allow the study of large datasets alongside context-specific understanding of the role played by household debt. The network connects researchers already working on debt in specific locations—beginning in Brazil, Kenya, and the US—in order to promote comparative research. This research network will draw on consumer complaint databases, data from household budgets, and stories told by those who avail themselves of credit to shed new light on the experience of indebtedness. Finally, the network draws together researchers and financial service providers to help practitioners test and reshape various economic tools in order to enhance dignity and minimize degradation.

By looking deeply in specific locations and broadly across different contexts, with cross-sectoral expertise, the network seeks to galvanize new thinking. The project prompts knowledge that allows new understanding of the role debt plays in everyday life across the globe and knowledge that is propositional—pointing the way to more productive modes of practice.