Maria Rosaria De Rosa

The many faces of confidence: personal relationships and credit intermediation in Naples (19th-20th centuries)

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Through the reconstruction and the analysis of the bankruptcy of an important credit institute in Naples at the beginning of the 20th century, this article aims at showing the fragility and contradictions of the borders between formal and informal credit. Documents describe a context where banks, i.e. institutes connected to the network of formal credit, often adopted informal procedures based on personal relationships when granting credit or obtaining a repayment from their clients. The bankruptcy of Banca Popolare Cooperativa, in fact, is an important example of these practices of credit and points our attention to another aspect: the low level of confidence of Neapolitan people towards credit institutes. This was not only due to the inaccessible warranties required by banks but also to the fact that informality was recognized as a fundamental aspect of economic relations in this period. Informality in the establishment of credit networks could be found in structured credit institutes, in the notarial bureaus and in the small loan agencies that abounded in the city in these years. All these aspects have been examined in this paper and particular attention has been given to the role of women in this credit system. In fact, through the analysis of social relations that support credit negotiation between modern and contemporary age, it is possible to redefine social and gender relationships. The central element emerging from this economic system is the strong interdependence between all the individuals involved in the transactions and the great ability of every actor to create credit networks in which formality and informality often interact. These aspects of credit can be observed in every social class and for every kind of patrimony and help us explaining the economic transformation of a city in the contemporary age.

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