About the Network

The Dignity + Debt Network is a group of experts across a dozen countries developing meaningful, data-rich analyses and innovative financial services for low and moderate income households. Rather than using stories and texts as anecdotes, the network combines both richly-detailed case studies and experiments and computational analysis of large bodies of texts to assess the meanings and values that affect financial capability and well-being. This combination enables questions, such as how do different meanings of dignity and respect affect which debts consumers are likely to repay first, and why? How do meaningful values operate in face-to-face versus virtual encounters with financial service providers, and how do different types of narratives (and the values they carry) affect how consumers achieve financial well-being? Finally, Dignity + Debt Network members will collaborate to redesign existing financial services and to test new dignity-affirming financial products.


Incubate research on dignity, respect, and fairness

Our first objective is to ask whether a business case be made for using respect to improve customer experience and to reduce the cost of loan defaults? Does the inclusion of respect decrease the cost of debt collection while increasing consumer financial well-being? Our approach brings together computational social scientists with qualitative researchers and practitioners to analyze how consumers think about what’s fair when confronting fees, fines, and debt collectors, as well as how and why they interpret their encounters with banks and other financial service providers as respectful, disrespectful, affirming, or degrading.


Develop innovative products and services

This second objective is to redesign existing financial services to increase the positive aspects of dignity and respect while also increasing the financial returns of these new designs. Likely partners include Daisy Debt, an online platform to assist consumers whose debts are in collection; Lending Circles, administered by the Mission Asset Fund to help people establish or improve their credit; Oportun, an affordable, short-term loan provider that helps people who do not have credit scores; and FS Card, Inc., a credit card targeting underserved communities. The Network will also work with Financial Sector Deepening-Kenya to identify fruitful partnerships in Kenya and across Africa. The Network can shape design competitions run by the Keller Center at Princeton to meet the needs and privacy concerns of financial service providers. These financial tools and services will resonate with low and moderate income consumers across the globe and promote meaningful inclusion.


Generate public support for debt with dignity

We plan to change the conversation about credit and debt among those measuring financial access and wellness, such as those writing legislation on credit access and debt, and those providing financial services. By developing novel visualizations of dignity and debt along with podcasts of conversations among researchers, journalists, civic and political leaders, and television, radio, and social media personalities, we aim to make the collective wisdom of the Network immediately relevant and usable. The network will develop strategies that point the way to more fruitful relations between finance and society.

Meet the Network

Frederick F. Wherry
Frederick Wherry
Principal Investigator
Frederick F. Wherry is a Professor of Sociology at Princeton University and Director of the Dignity and Debt Network, a partnership between the Social Science Research Council and Princeton. He, Kristin Seefeldt, and Alvarez Alvarez are the authors of Credit Where It’s Due: Rethinking Financial Citizenship. He is also the editor of the four-volume Sage Encyclopedia of Economics and Society and Money Talks: How Money Really Works (with Nina Bandelj and Viviana A. Zelizer), as well as the author or editor of five other books or volumes, including The Oxford Handbook of Consumption (with Ian Woodward). He edits a book series at Stanford University Press: Culture and Economic Life, with Jennifer Lena and Greta Hsu. He was the 2018 President of the Social Science History Association (ssha.org) and the past chair of the Economic Sociology Section and the Consumers and Consumption Section of the American Sociological Association. He has served on numerous editorial boards and on the policy board of the Journal of Consumer Research. He participates in a working group on work and wealth at the Aspen Institute and serves in an advisory capacity to the Boston Federal Reserve (Community Development Research Advisory Council) and the Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business at the Birmingham Business School (UK). Before joining the Princeton Department he was a Professor of Sociology at Yale University and Co-Director of the Center for Cultural Sociology. He has also served on the faculty of the University of Michigan and Columbia University. He grew up in Rock Hill, South Carolina, earned his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a Morehead-Cain Scholar, his MPA from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, and his PhD in Sociology from Princeton.


Frederick Wherry
Principal Investigator
Jeffrey Himpele
Director, VizE Lab
Adam Goldstein
Faculty Research Associate
Rafe Steinhauer
Faculty Research Associate
Parijat Chakrabarti
Graduate Research Assistant
Jason Windawi
Graduate Research Assistant
Russell Kim
Research Assistant
Julia Elyachar
Faculty Research Associate
Isabel Jijon
Postdoctoral Associate
Katie Donnelly
Graduate Research Assistant
Gabriela Oseguera Serra
Research Assistant
Amy Amartya
Research Assistant


Jonathan Morduch
New York University
Isabel Guérin
Université Paris Diderot and the French Institute of Pondicherry
Federico Neiburg
Graziella Moraes Silva
The Graduate Institute, Switzerland
Franco Guto
Viviane Fernandes
Eugênia Motta
Ariel Wilkis
Martín Hornes
Amrik Heyer
Rafe Mazer
Edoardo Totolo
Francis Gwyer
Chris Yenkey
University of South Carolina, Kenya
Deborah James
London School of Economics, South Africa and UK
Alya Guseva
Boston University, Russia
Akos Rona-Tas
Smita Premchander
Sampark and Indian Institute of Management, India
Sibel Kusimba
American University, Kenya
Julie Zollman
Paromita Sanyal
Florida State University, India
Jason Houle
Fenaba Addo
Nina Bandelj
Karen Rowlingson
Stephen Vaisey
Kieran Healy
Kristin Seefeldt
Roman Galperin
Johns Hopkins
Jonathan Morduch
Stephen O’Connell
José Quiñonez
Ida Rademacher


Financial Sector Deepening-Kenya (FSD-Kenya)
Financial Access Initiative (FAI)
Mission Asset Fund (MAF)
Change Machine (formerly The Financial Clinic)
Daisy Debt
Expanding Prosperity Impact Collaborative (EPIC), Financial Security Program, The Aspen Institute