2015 – London
Inequality in the 21st Century
The first decade of the 21st century saw increased controversy over the degree of inequality in contemporary societies. This controversy grew more heated yet due to the fact that even after the financial crisis, the wealth and income of the rich continued to grow disproportionately in spite of their role in the crash. As the remedies to the crisis became transmuted in many countries into austerity, the divide appeared to be growing larger, leading to popular protest movements such as the Occupy movement. At the same time, conventional politics and politicians seemed relatively powerless to intervene or to articulate alternatives. The result in many countries has appeared to be on the one hand a general disillusion with conventional politics and on the other hand the emergence of new populist movements that reject traditional political remedies.
At this time, it is therefore appropriate for SASE to revisit the question of inequality, especially in a conference hosted by the London School of Economics, founded by social reformers in the early 20th century and the academic home of R.H. Tawney, whose book Equality (initially published in 1931 and reissued regularly through the early post-war years) served as a key text for Labour politics in the UK and rejected the idea that the inequality he perceived in that period was economically efficient. On the contrary, Tawney saw it as “an economic liability of alarming dimensions.” He argued that “the distribution of wealth [in societies] depends, not wholly, indeed, but largely on their institutions; and the character of their institutions is determined not by immutable economic laws but by the values, preferences, interests and ideals which rule at any given moment in a given society.” (1964 ed., p. 54)
For anybody interested in socio-economics, therefore, inequality is a central phenomenon where institutions and markets come together, and where the key political questions of an era are enacted.
- How and why has the degree and form of inequality within and between societies changed over the last 50 years?
- How has the gradual dominance of neo-liberal policy-making affected the distribution of inequality between labor and capital and between different social groups?How has the politics of inequality changed in this period? What have been the legitimating ideologies and discourses for different patterns of inequality and how have perceptions about the nature, extent, causes, and consequences of inequality shifted?
- How have changes in state policies impacted on inequality?
- What forms of resistance and opposition to inequalities (such as trade unions, feminist movements, and social movements) have been effective and in what ways?
In contemporary societies, who are the rich, where does their wealth come from and how do they sustain their ability to grow their wealth in the face of economic and political uncertainty?
How has the rise of the emerging economies impacted on inequality? What sorts of inequalities are emerging in China and other developing economies and how are these related to the politics of these countries?
- Many of these inequalities emerge from the policies and practices of multinational firms competing in global markets though coordinating global value chains of subcontractors and subsidiaries. How much do we know about what is happening to inequality inside firms and how firm level policies interact with and impact on local regulations and practices?
- Global climate change is producing a variety of effects for humans (let alone other species) and these are not evenly distributed, either between or within countries. The inequality of these impacts means that effects will be transmitted and mediated by social structures and institutions at different levels.
The 2015 SASE Annual Meeting seeks contributions that explore inequality, its structure, its sources, its ideological legitimations, and its politics. In keeping with SASE’s comparative and international perspective, contributions that examine these issues locally, regionally, nationally, and globally are encouraged as are studies using a variety of qualitative, historical, and quantitative methodologies.
SASE/LSE Program available here.