‘Accepting the competitive challenge’: the intellectual and legislative origins of the student loan industry in the U.S.

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Britain is a DPhil candidate in Geography at Brasenose College. Her doctoral research is funded by a joint Clarendon Fund-Brasenose College scholarship.

Britain holds an MPhil in Geography and the Environment, with distinction, from St Peter’s College, University of Oxford. Her Master's dissertation critiqued the spatial logics of philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer series and its thesis of sovereign violence. She completed her undergraduate studies magna cum laude in English at Barnard College, Columbia University in the City of New York, in 2009.

Britain currently serves as postgraduate secretary for the School of Geography and the Environment’s Political Worlds: Violence, Sovereignty, and Knowledge research cluster.

Current Research

Britain’s doctoral research considers the origins of the student loan industry in the U.S. and its relationship with market-based activism in the mid-twentieth century. It explores how the Johnson Administration sought to expand access to higher education via the Higher Education Act of 1965 and how a neoliberal think tank, United Student Aid Funds (USAF), in conjunction with the American Bankers Association (ABA), lobbied for crucial changes to the legislation, merging the federal government’s role in the student loan program with novel embodiments of market-based finance and individualized debt.

The dissertation traces the intellectual roots of USAF through its parent organisation, the Volker Fund, and its close relationship with neoliberal activists and academics, such as Friedrich von Hayek and Richard Cornuelle. It explores how USAF, through its partnership with ABA, worked with the Johnson and Nixon administrations and members of Congress to shape student loan legislation and establish the Student Loan Marketing Association in 1972. The dissertation draws on five months of archival research at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, and the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

It attempts to further understandings of how market-based ideologies and debt have colonized forms of governance, attending to Foucault’s discussions of neoliberalism and governmentality while extending such discussions to a fine-grained analysis of how particular individuals have influenced the emergence of market-based forms of governance. In doing so, it grounds contemporary discussions of student loan debt, the embodiment of debt-laced subject-hood, and spaces of marketized debt, at their roots.

Current Teaching