Europe on Credit: Narratives of Speculation, Decline, and Responsibility

April 27–29, 2017

This conference is closed to the public.

For the better part of a decade, Europe has experienced a “debt crisis” that, at moments, has seemed severe enough to threaten the future of European integration. Although the roots of the crisis are complex, it is often described in deceptively simple terms, via allusions, scripts, and metaphors. In “explaining” the crisis through available narratives or scripts, politicians, journalists, academics, and financial-institution officials craft morality tales, draw lessons from history, and construct a particular vision of the future. Indeed, the utility of these narratives is that, like fairy tales, they have heroes and villains and, most importantly, a moral. The use of narrative and allusion to analyze the crisis is not innocent; it has profound policy implications.

Despite the literary tropes and historical allusions used over and again in explaining the European debt crisis and its potential consequences, however, policy analyses of the sovereign debt crisis tend to be limited to the social sciences, and analysts within these domains are often not self-conscious about how scripts and narratives affect decision making and outcomes. Tools of literary analysis, by contrast, are rarely if ever combined with social science methods to analyze the crisis, its remedies, and the culture of credit and debt in Europe. In a year-long series of events, culminating in a private conference with one or two public keynotes, we will bring financial experts, literary scholars, historians, and social scientists together to examine the connection between public finance and narratives of indebtedness and creditworthiness. At the end of the year, we hope to publish our contributions in a multilingual and multidisciplinary platform.


Mary D. Lewis

Faculty Associate. Robert Walton Goelet Professor of French History, Department of History, Harvard University; Faculty Affiliate, Harvard Law School.

Emmanuel Bouju

Institut Universitaire de France and Université de Rennes.

See also: 2017, Conferences