Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Susan M. Roberts


This doctoral dissertation examines how the financialization of the economy affects the everyday lives of low and moderate-income (LMI) urban residents in the United States. Specifically, the research presented in this dissertation provides a critical examination of the democratization of finance by examining financial empowerment programs designed to promote financial inclusion for LMI residents in Boston, Massachusetts. These programs were created in the wake of the financial crisis to promote financial security by training participants to manage their debt, to monitor their credit scores, to avoid predatory lending, and to invest using mainstream financial products.

This research has two significant findings. First, this research shows how nonprofit organizations teach LMI adults to use credit and accumulate assets in order to compensate for wage stagnation and the erosion of state assistance. I argue that the practice of financial coaching asks individuals and households to accept the burden of debt to ensure the reproduction of society; rather than the city, state and federal governments being responsible for ever-expanding welfare rolls in a time of intensifying inequality, financial literacy and capability initiatives encourage people who are living in poverty to gain access to consumer credit in order to survive. As consumer and municipal debt grows unabated, this finding offers new insights into the scalar interdependence that finance engenders between the city and its residents. Second, this research illustrates how nonprofit financial empowerment programs are helping financial institutions expand their reach into new consumer markets. This suggests that the active growth of the financial sector is contingent upon making previously unfit market actors into responsible debtors in the pedagogical spaces of financial inclusion. This research militates against any easy assumptions about the normative ‘good’ of financial inclusion and advances scholarship on urban governance, the welfare state, financialization and the geographical study of inequality.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)