Class Questions: Feminist Answers by Joan Acker (Gender Lens Series: AltaMira Press) (Paperback) Class questions is an urgent task at the beginning of the twenty-first century as global, national, and local inequalities escalate. Yet conventional conceptualizations of class are inadequate to the task because they illuminate the economic experiences of white men more clearly than those of white women or people of color. In this book, Joan Acker sounds the call for a return to questions of class while she deftly articulates a carefully reasoned resolution to the conceptualization problem. Acker proposes that we see class and capitalism as fundamentally gendered and racialized and powerfully shaped in work organizations.
Acker examines the efforts of feminist theorists, beginning in the late 1960s, to create theories of capitalism and class, or patriarchy and capitalism, as well as more recent efforts to integrate gender into class theory, to theorize the intersectionality of gender, race, and class, and to use other innovative approaches to account for the ongoing creation of gender and racial/ ethnic differences within economic processes. She finds that attempts to integrate gender into class theories and to theorize the intersection of separate gender, race, and class structures both run into conceptual difficulties that can be resolved by analyzing class itself as thoroughly gendered and racialized.
Analyses of gendered and racialized class, Acker argues, must be based on concrete practices, not abstract structures, and on an expanded idea of the economy suggested by other feminist scholars that includes unpaid work and family forms of distribution. A feminist concept of gendered and racialized class relations spans production, reproduction, and distribution and includes the invisible work of linking households and paid workplaces.
Acker shows how capitalism was gendered and racialized historically, as it evolved in a process dominated by small groups of white men, and legitimated with images of masculinity. This process differed in various industrializing countries: the focus here is the United States. The subordination of white women, differing in various class situations, and the exploitation and enslavement of people of other race/ethnic groups were built into U.S. capitalism from the beginning. Capitalism developed with a gendered understructure anchored in divisions between the aims and organization of production and reproduction: production was organized to achieve profit, not to provide for and care for children and families. As women had the bulk of caring responsibilities, this was a gendered organization of necessary work.
With reproductive work relegated to women in the household, capitalist organizations could claim nonresponsibility for human reproduction, and nonresponsibility for the environment as well. Thus, capitalist claims to nonresponsibility are built into the basic aims of capitalist organizations and into society-wide gender and racial divisions of labor. The vast power of capitalist organizations in a highly monetized society, along with their nonresponsibility, continues to contribute to the devaluation of caring work and the women who do most of it. Such devaluation is central to women's class situations. Racial inequality and subordination are attributed to individual or group failings, thus are also outside the realm of corporate organizational responsibility.
Next Acker turns to the roles of powerful organizations and organizational actors in shaping gendered and racialized class. Organizations are the sites in which gendered and racialized class relations are created as integral to the ordinary business of getting the work done, accounting for the costs and revenues, hiring and firing, and setting wages. Acker examines these processes in greater detail, developing the concept of "inequality regimes." An inequality regime is the configuration of inequality-producing practices and processes within particular organizations at particular times. Class inequality is more legitimate than racial and gender inequality in the United States. This legitimacy of class and the strength of white, male gendered and racialized class interests often undermine efforts at organizational change, such as affirmative action, pay equity, and diversity projects.
Finally, Acker examines contemporary changes in work and employment in local, national, and global economic/political processes that are increasing inequalities and altering racialized and gendered class relations. Capitalist organizational processes have led to large-scale changes in the organization of production, the decline of manufacturing jobs, and the increase in service sector jobs. These changes have had gendered and racialized impacts. Changing work practices and employment contracts, facilitated by employer attacks on unions, have made work less secure for many. Gendered and racialized class patterns become more polarized as income and wealth inequality also increase and tax reductions favor corporations and the wealthy. These changes, plus the downsizing of the social safety net, mean that those already with poorer jobs and lower wages fall further behind. With so many women doing paid work, new questions emerge such as whether the male-breadwinner-family is a thing of the past and how people deal with the tasks of bridging family and work demands.
Changes are ongoing, Acker reminds us: white-collar and professional jobs are increasingly being moved offshore and Wal-Mart has emerged as the model of profitable organization. Both of these changes could mean further, serious alterations in gendered and racialized class configurations in the United States. Acker concludes by considering the implications of her conceptualization of class for progressive social change, outlining some proposals for decreasing gendered and racialized class inequalities.
Class questions are vital and immediate. In this book, Joan Acker develops an innovative and exciting feminist response that will change the way the reader understands how we got to this point and how we can most effectively respond to the challenges we face in the twenty-first century economy.
Excerpt: Now, feminist debates about class seem to be beginning again. bell hooks (2000) argues that "class matters" because, in her view, class has receded to the background in much feminist writing in the last ten years or so. She affirms the importance of class in her own life and in the lives of millions of other people who exist within growing insecurity and inequality. Nancy Fraser (1997), in a different feminist discourse, argues that a political and intellectual divide between redistribution (class) and recognition (culture/identity) must be bridged to develop a progressive politic of the future in a "postsocialist" world. To do this, she engages with "class" in arguments about types of remedies for injustices of distribution and recognition. Both hooks and Fraser bring our attention back to class, but without revisiting the earlier and unresolved feminist criticisms of class.
The same may be said for many feminist sociologists and other social scientists. Feminist scholars in the United States agree that gender, race, and class domination are intrinsically linked (Acker 2000; Collins 2000; hooks 2000; Weber 2001), but the "class" that enters that linkage is often unexamined, and is often some version of the same old, unreconstructed "class." An additional problem confronting these efforts to think about complex inequalities is how to specify what is meant by "intrinsically linked" or "intersectionality," how to see linkages in ways that do not ultimately give class or race or gender a privileged position as the most important element in understanding power and oppression. I think it is possible that solving those issues depends on solving the problems of "class." These problems are:
• Conceptualizing class and capitalism as gender- and race-neutral structures or processes, while implicitly modeling the class actor on a male worker or capitalist.
• Defining the capitalist economy, the basis of class, as encompassing only market-related activities, thus ignoring unpaid, reproductive, and subsistence work as economic and also basic to class.
• Ignoring the importance of state and family distributions for class relations.
• Failing to recognize the importance of masculine and white privilege in the historical development and contemporary functioning of class relations, as well as the importance of hegemonic masculinities in supporting exploitation and domination.
In this book, I present some solutions to these problems, using the scholarly work of others from the early (late 1960s and early 1970s) socialist feminist and Marxist feminist debates to the postcolonial feminist discourses of the beginning of the twenty-first century. I also use my own work on women, gender, and class, which began with an article in 1973. I build on the insights of the 1980s (e.g., Acker 1988; Phillips 1987) that class relations are always gendered and are constructed through gender. I also rely on my research on work and women for understanding and examples. This research includes a study of housewives attempting to return to work, a participatory study of a comparable worth project, a study of female bank workers in Sweden, a study of organizational restructuring in a college, and a study of welfare restructuring in the late 1990s. I learned a great deal from all these studies, including something of the complexity of the class relations within which the women (and men) were enmeshed, and how class, gender, and race are produced in work organizations. My sometimes abstract discussions are always informed by these realities, or so I hope. I next offer preliminary definitions of gender, race, and class. I end this introduction with a brief outline of my argument about how to resolve the issues listed above as it is developed in the following chapters.
Defining class, race, and gender. Class, race, and gender are conceptual categories, variously defined and debated from different theoretical perspectives. These words are often used as nouns, but such usage reifies processes and practices that are continually bringing into existence the situations, images, conditions, and relations that the words intend (Acker 1992a). I prefer verbal forms, such as gendering, or adjectival forms, such as racialized, that better capture the sense of process and diversity. Certain definitions are more amenable to an analysis of mutually constituting processes than are others.
Gender is best understood as pervasive patterns of difference, in advan‑
tage and disadvantage, work and reward, emotion and sexuality, image and identity, between female and male, created through practical activities and representations that justify these patterns that result in the social categories of women and men. Gender may include more than these two categories. Gender is a basic principle of social organization, almost always involving unequal economic and social power in which men dominate. Gender is socially constructed and diverse, and varies historically and cross-culturally.
Race is also socially and politically constructed around definitions of skin color and other physical characteristics; in particular, historical processes of war, colonization, slavery, immigration, and migration (for example, hooks 1981, 1984; Collins 2000; Bhavnani 2001; Glenn 2002). Race, too, almost always involves inequalities of power and material resources, resulting from and constituting relations of domination, exclusion, and exploitation. Racial representations in white society are primary ideological justifications for systematic exploitation and subordination. Historically, many different racial categories and identities have emerged, with members of the category "white" almost always in dominant positions in the northern industrial countries. Race, too, can be seen as a basic principle of social organization. Ethnicity differs from race, but is often associated with race. Ethnic differences are based on cultural and language traditions and do not always involve inequalities.
Class generally stands for economic/power inequalities structured by production, market, and/or occupational systems. Definitions of class, in my view, are more problematic than those of race and gender because the feminist critique of class theories did not lead to new feminist theories. Thus, certain conceptual problems remained unsolved: the invisibility of gender (and race) in class theories and the implicit male model of the class actor. Available class theories include structural Marxist approaches that specify some core set of class relations embedded in capitalist structures (e.g., Wright 2001a), historical materialist theories that emphasize economic structural change, class consciousness, and class conflict (e.g., Thompson 1963), Marxist theories of the labor process (e.g., Burawoy 1979), Weberian theories of class and status (e.g., Giddens 1973), occupational categorical schemes (e.g., Goldthorpe 1980), and relatively untheorized notions of positions in the economy related to income and wealth, such as lower class, working class, middle class, and upper class. I think that a feminist historical materialist approach, evident in much feminist historical and ethnographic work, holds the most promise for a class analysis that is compatible with the above concepts of gender and race. Below I outline the components of such an approach to a gendered and racialized class analysis, arguing that class is also socially constructed and processual, the outcome or effect of practices and relations that constitutethe production and distribution of the means of survival. Class is, of course, a basic principle of social organization in capitalist societies. Combining race, gender, and class. In pursuing an approach to class that displaces the white male model I have tried to develop the insights that class and capitalism are gendered, adding that class and capitalism are also racialized (see Omi and Winant 1994, 68). This way of combining gender, race, and class is different from arguing for intersections between systems or structures with their own, preexisting internal elements and dynamics. Rather than already existing, distinct systems, I see ongoing processes and practices in which gendering and racialization are integral to the creation and recreation of class inequalities and class divisions, emerging in complex, multifaceted, boundary-spanning capitalist activities. This is only one way to look at gender, race, and class. It is also partial, with a focus more on work relations than on other areas of daily life in which race, class, and gender also structure participation, inequality, and interpretation. For example, I do not discuss how material and cultural consumption practices express and create gendered and racialized class distinctions and identities. I give little space to other important class processes, such as those in our schools, colleges, and universities. Lacking infinite space, I had to make choices about emphasis and inclusion of topics, and I chose to emphasize work and distribution in the following discussion.
In chapter 2, I discuss attempts to bring women into class analysis by both white feminist and nonfeminist class theorists. Most of these theoretical and empirical studies did not include race and racial inequalities. Other discussions and studies by women of color looked at race and its intersections with gender and class. General agreement emerged among all these scholars that gender and class, and then race, should be understood as mutually constituted and studied as lived experience or as practices in historically specific contexts. Some argued that reproduction and unpaid labor should be included in concepts of class relations. Problems remained in how to include reproduction and unpaid labor in understanding class practices and in how to give concrete meaning to metaphors such as "intersections" or "mutually constituting." This discussion of theorizing provides the basis for the ensuing chapters.
In chapter 3, I first discuss conceptual approaches to resolving some of the difficulties in thinking about class, gender, and race that were discussed in chapter 2. Thinking about the social as activities and practices is a basic step toward conceptualizing gendered and racialized class relations.* Embodied people engage in, coordinate, and interpret the practices of daily life within gendered and racialized distributions of power and inequality. Extended social relations, originating outside local places and specifying local practices, link those local practices into distant social
spaces. What is often called "social structure," including class, gender, and race, is emergent in practices, produced and reproduced in ongoing human activities. Thus, people are not located in class structures, but enmeshed in class relations. To understand the complexity and variety of gendered and racialized class processes, investigations can begin in the standpoints of a variety of people who are enmeshed in class relations in different ways. To clarify the meaning of "gendered and racialized," investigations can look at how class experiences differ for white women, women and men of color, and white men, and how differences and persistent inequalities are explained and justified. To bring women of all races into class analysis, the notion of what counts as "economic" must be expanded to include unpaid work and other forms of unrecognized work. To expand the economic, I adopt economist Julie Nelson's (1993) concept of economic activity as processes of provisioning, providing what is socially defined as necessary to sustain life and ensure survival.
In the remainder of chapter 3, I outline the class practices and relations that accomplish provisioning. These include relations of paid and unpaid production and reproduction, relations of distribution, and relations that link paid work and unpaid family work. Class relations take place in the production of goods and services, both very broadly defined, and in the distribution of wages, taxes, and profits generated in production. Distribution is embedded in different forms of relations, including personal and intimate ties and impersonal, bureaucratic processes. Distribution through marriage and family relations is one way in which personal, emotional life is implicated in class relations. Linking activities create the infrastructure of scheduling, housework, and care of self and others that make it possible to be a paid worker. Thus, class relations are also produced and reproduced outside what are thought of as core capitalist processes, in unpaid work of various kinds. Class processes are gendered and racialized through many concrete practices that are based on assumptions about gender and race differences and inequalities, reproducing images and ideologies that support different outcomes and shaping interactions and identities. This chapter concludes with an outline of a conceptual approach to gendered and racialized class processes.
In chapter 4, I argue that capitalisms are gendered and racialized. I use the plural, capitalisms, because important national historical differences exist in the ways in which capitalism incorporated gendered and racialized practices and ideologies. As industrial capitalism emerged in Britain and the United States in the nineteenth century, differences in the aims and activities of production and household reproduction developed. Capitalist firms organized to achieve profits; families and households organized to provide for survival, raise children, and create a satisfactory daily life. Contradictions between these two modes of work organization wereand are frequent. They were necessary to each other, but production often undermined the possibilities for survival, for example by paying wages too low to support a family. As many have argued, this was a gendered division. A relatively small group of white men drove the development of capitalist production, reworking forms of male domination as intrinsic to emerging class relations, and organizing the new factories and, later, the new offices based on assumptions about the masculine individual as the normal human being. Money and power were increasingly centralized in this male domain, while women were at least symbolically consigned to the domain with little power and money. Racial subordination, exploitation, and exclusion were also intrinsic to developing capitalism in the United States, providing a source of unpaid labor and, later, very low-wage labor based on racism and physical violence. White male workers accepted their dependence on wage labor partly through constructing their identities as different from and superior to women and African-American men.
Thus, white masculinity was central in the development of U.S. capitalism. As capitalist labor markets and wage practices became widespread and then bureaucratized, these were segregated and defined by gender and racial difference. These inequality processes, I argue, are also intrinsic to capitalist organizing. Although gender and race segregation and wage inequality have become less extreme, neither is disappearing, and instances of new forms of inequality and segregation are found in the "new economy."
Claims to corporate nonresponsibility for human and environmental survival and well-being, unless these goals happen to enhance profit, are an additional aspect of the gendering and racialization of capitalism. Claims to nonresponsibility are undergirded by the gendered separation between the aims of production and household reproduction. Such claims are particularly vociferous in the United States because of the dominance of neoliberal ideology in the last twenty-five years and the success of various capitalist organizations in fighting labor unions and achieving downsizing of both state and corporate welfare. Corporate nonresponsibility continually reinforces the responsibility of households, and mostly women within households, for survival and caring work. This is a process that pushes responsibility away from the centers of wealth and power and by implication devalues those who have little wealth and power but who must take on responsibility to preserve their lives and the lives of those around them. Women from poor and minority groups often have the greatest responsibilities and the fewest resources. These are both material and ideological processes that enshrine gender (male) and race (white) within capitalist organizing. Many white working class and middle class men have also been negatively affected by corporate nonresponsibility.
But, nonresponsibility is still based in the separations between the gendered organizing of production and the household and legitimated through laws and conventional practices that declare the private corporation to be a single-minded individual bent on getting the best deal in the market. Sometimes under pressure from reformers or social movements, governments attempt to control nonresponsibility with laws and regulations, with varying degrees of success. However, in the United States at least, the claims are continuously made and continuously countered, with a scarcely noticed gendered subtext to the arguments.
Chapter 5 deals with the role of work organizations in the structuring of gendered and racialized class processes. Powerful organizations and organizational actors, who are primarily white men, are central in the economic and political decision making that shapes class locally, nationally, and internationally. These actions maintain organizations' non-responsibility, locate and relocate industries, and restructure jobs and workplaces. Large organizations control much of the media, and in other ways shape class processes. Organizations are also the sites in which gendered and racialized class relations are created as integral to the ordinary business of getting the work done, accounting for the costs and revenues, hiring and firing, and setting wages. I examine these processes in greater detail, developing the concept of "inequality regimes." An inequality regime is the configuration of inequality-producing practices and processes within particular organizations at particular times. Although common patterns exist, for example, in highly bureaucratic organizations, there are also many variations. Widespread attempts to restructure organizations, downsize management, and reorganize work in the last twenty years of the twentieth century and the first years of the twenty-first century contribute to variation. An inequality regime has a number of interconnected dimensions:
• The bases of inequality that may include, in addition to gender, race, and class, inequalities based on sexual orientation, age, differing abilities, and the like.
• Organizing practices that maintain inequalities, including hiring, job design, wage setting, and expectations about job performance based on a model of the worker as undistracted by outside obligations. Vertical and horizontal race- and gender-based segregation of jobs and positions, as well as functional segregation on the basis of race and gender, are produced and maintained through managerial and supervisory practices.
• The visibility and legitimacy of inequalities. Class inequality is much more legitimate than either race or gender inequality, but it may be more invisible because it is so widely accepted. Inequalities are legiti‑
mated by gendered and racialized images and understandings, such as the widespread, still existing, image of the manager as a white male with certain characteristics.
• Methods of control, varying from consent based on worker identification with the organization, controls embedded in bureaucratic rules, to controls using implicit or explicit violence, such as sexual harassment. Unequal power based on racialized and gendered class disparities affects the efficacy of controls. Controls are created and recreated in interactions between workers, between workers and supervisors, and between managers and supervisors in which expectations of race-, gender-, and class-appropriate behaviors are covertly or overtly expressed, then complied with or opposed.
• Competing interests and organizing change. Intentional change may originate outside organizations by unions and/or social movements, or change efforts may come from inside, instituted by managers. In both cases, competing interests often limit the effectiveness of change efforts.
Efforts to increase equality in work organizations, such as affirmative action or pay equity projects, are efforts to change inequality regimes. These efforts often fail: Looking at how specific inequality regimes are constituted and function may help in understanding these failures, as well as those cases in which there was success.
Chapter 6 is a discussion of contemporary changes in gendered and racialized class relations in the United States. Large-scale changes in the organization of production, the decline of manufacturing jobs and the increase in service sector jobs, have had gendered and racialized impacts. Changing work practices and employment contracts have made work less secure for many. Income inequalities increased dramatically between top and bottom incomes, but decreased to a small degree between white women and men. Gendered and racialized class patterns became more polarized as wealth inequality also increased and tax reductions favored corporations and the wealthy. These changes, plus the downsizing of the social safety net, meant that those already with poorer jobs and lower wages, single mothers, African Americans, Hispanics, and other racial/ ethnic groups, fell further behind than middle class and working class white families. With so many women doing paid work, new questions emerged, such as whether the male breadwinner family is a thing of the past and how people deal with the tasks of bridging family and work demands. Changes are ongoing, with recent employer initiatives increasmg offshoring of white collar and professional jobs and with the emergence of Wal-Mart as the model of a profitable organization. Both of these changes could mean further, serious alterations in gendered and racial‑
ized class configurations in the United States. Gendering and racializing practices that I outlined in chapter 3 are still integral elements in the ongoing creation of class inequalities. Moreover, many of these changes are rooted in the underlying gendered and racialized processes that were part of the emergence of nineteenth-century industrial capitalism and that are still present in twenty-first-century capitalism.
Chapter 7 first summarizes my conceptualization of gendered and racialized class practices and relations. I then examine proposals for change in key areas of gendering and racializing processes. These are changes to support caring work, including funded parental leave and universally available day care. Reconstruction of work organization is necessary to move away from assumptions about ideal workers as males unencumbered by any obligations outside work. A shortened work day and flexible working arrangements would lessen gender inequality and would support efforts to get men to do their fair share of caring and other unpaid labor. Reinvigorating policies and programs to reduce inequalities in opportunities and pay are necessary to remove many practices that still discriminate against all women in racially specific ways and against racial/ethnic men. Measures to promote income equality and economic security are also important. These include rebuilding the fractured social safety net, instituting universal, single-payer health insurance, raising the minimum wage, and working toward a universal basic income or citizens' income as a right of citizenship. Finally, ways to increase and restore democratic participation and voice in decisions on the above issues is essential to achieving any of these policies.
I look at the possibilities for making any of these changes. In the present context of large capitalist organizations' global domination and control of economies and politics, with commitment to "free market" neoliberal ideology, the prospects for most of these changes look dim. Yet massive and diverse organizing against global capitalism's actions is also ongoing. It is possible that Karl Polanyi's (1944) observation, that at certain points capital has to act to save itself from the consequences of its own free markets, will again prove to be accurate. In any case, my revisionist reading of class may contribute to a concept of class that points us toward the fundamentally gendered and racialized constitution of global and national class society.
The Blackwell Companion to Social Inequalities by Mary Romero, Eric Margolis (Blackwell Companions to Sociology: Blackwell Publishing) The discipline of sociology that arose in nineteenth-century Europe was in very large part developed as an inquiry into the persistent inequalities the founders perceived as the Industrial Revolution and the rise of capitalism decimated the medieval world. Marx saw the increasing emiseration of the proletariat and the monopolization of wealth and power in a few hands as the inevitable contradiction of capitalism. Weber's dialogue with Marx's ghost separated class from social status, and power. He also investigated the economic inequalities of Catholic and Protestant societies in his most famous work (Weber 1958 ). Durkeim, though less interested in inequality than in the basis for social solidarity, was also concerned that increasing conflict between capital and labor threatened the social order: "the working classes are not really satisfied with the conditions under which they live, but very often accept them only as constrained and forced, since they have not the means to change them" (1964 ). It is curious, then, that a recent "Dictionary of Sociology," promising definitions for everything from "Anomie to Zeitgeist," has no entry for "inequality" and the only entry for equality defines it as "Equality of Opportunity" (Jary and Jary 1991). This is very much in keeping with the American sociological view that was developed in the (in)famous "debate on equality" that took place in the American Sociological Review, beginning in the 1940s and continuing into the 1960s (Davis 1942, 1953; Davis and Moore 1945; Tumin 1953, 1963; Wrong 1959). In the continuing attempt to refute Marx and demonstrate, as George Homans sanctimoniously quipped, that the proletariat had no intellectual or moral right to demand his money or his life, American sociologists vigorously attempted to reduce the issues of inequality to social stratification; and then they sought to demonstrate the inevitability – in fact, the benefits – of stratification in any advanced technological social system. Every human quality came to be ranked on a scale: income, wealth, intelligence, education level, status, and so on. The individuals' relative position on these different dimensions – and mobility in the great social race – then boiled down to "equality of opportunity," as competitive individuals lined up at the starting blocks. All of this intended to create a science demonstrating that Western democratic capitalist societies had developed into meritocracies, and that the few examples of illegitimate inequality were on their way to being eliminated.
However, the alternative sociological view, inherited from Marx – that capitalist society was riven with persistent and illegitimate inequalities – refused to die a natural death. Sociologists and political economists continued to deeply examine structural inequalities in social class (Mills 1959; Kolko 1962; Baran and Sweezy 1966; Lundberg 1968). Books like Michael Harrington's The Other America (1962) brought the issue of generations of poverty-stricken Americans to the fore. W. E. B DuBois – who defined the problem of the twentieth century as the problem of the color line – explored the inequalities of caste-like racial hierarchy (1986). While his prolific work was all but ignored by the mainstream Structural Functionalists, in the 1960s it was amplified by many critical sociological studies. Sociological investigations of racism and the effects on African American inequality spurred similar sociologies of Puerto Ricans, Chicanos, American Indians, and other racial/ethnic groups caught in the webs of racial caste and class (Johnson 1934, 1941, 1943; Galarza 1964; Deloria 1969; Brown 1970; Galarza et al. 1970; Blauner 1972; Maldonado-Denis 1972; Piore 1979). Similarly, second-wave feminist sociologists investigated the inequalities experienced by women in the home and in the workforce (Mitchell 1971; Oakley 1972, 1974; Rowbotham 1974; Millman and Kanter 1975; Eisenstein 1979). International scholars like Frantz Fanon (1963), Noam Chomsky (1969), and Paulo Freire (1973) described the deep gulfs of imperialism and international inequalities. All this research sought to name racism, sexism, and neocolonialism and expose the systematic and structural sources of persistent inequality over which the notions of "equality of opportunity" glossed. This book follows in the footsteps of those pioneers.
The following chapters, written at the beginning of a new century, revisit inequalities within the extensive normative and technological changes the world is experiencing. Some developments have resulted in reducing inequalities – in parts of the developed world, at least, inequalities of gender, ability, sexual orientation, and even race have been mitigated but not eliminated. Others have exacerbated and extended inequalities that have plagued humankind for centuries – again, gender, ability, and race but also social class, and increasingly deep divisions between the center and the periphery in global systems. Yet other social and technological developments have created new forms of inequality – digital divides, advances in genetics and biotechnology, environmental racism, and cultural imperialism, for example. The chapters in this volume represent the conversation on social inequalities taking place in the discipline, which is also reflected in national and international political debates. Debates within the field of sociology concerning the influence of technology, identity politics, and globalization enter into the analysis of parenting, childhood, racism, migration, welfare, media, tourism, and health care.'
This volume in the Blackwell Companions to Sociology series provides a state-of-the-art collection of sociological scholarship on inequalities, emphasizing those incorporating race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, citizenship, and nationality. We approached the project by identifying emerging topics and trends that represent the scope and range of theoretical orientations and contemporary emphases in the field of social inequalities. As we began to map out our project, it became obvious that issues of social inequalities between individuals, families, communities, societies, nation-states, and global regions have become central to research in every field in sociology. Consequently, drawing the boundaries for the specific study of social inequalities remains an ongoing enterprise in sociology. However, from the beginning, we decided against the conventional approach of categorizing social inequalities in terms of specific axes of domination – race, sex, gender, and so forth – an approach that too frequently works against understanding structures and processes that cut across these social constructions. Instead, we encouraged our contributors to focus on the conceptual underpinnings of inequality.
Leading scholars responded to the invitation to write chapters in their area of expertise that represent the scope and range of theoretical orientations, contemporary emphases, and emerging topics in the field of social inequalities. We urged contributors to attend to debates in the field, highlighting developing trends, directions, and interdisciplinary influences in the study of social inequalities. They were similarly encouraged to address the construction, maintenance, and deconstruction of inequalities, as expressed in processes of production, reproduction, and normalization, but also to address the dismantling of inequalities through individual, community, and institutional resistance. We also made two other requests: first, we asked the authors to highlight their own substantial contributions to sociological theory, research, and methodologies on social inequalities; second, we asked them to incorporate detailed literature reviews to help orient readers new to the area. The scholarship on social inequalities presented in this volume accomplishes these many tasks well. In ensemble, it reveals multiple and competing values that surround issues of equity, fairness, and justice, as well as individual rights and obligations.
With these goals shaping the volume, the chapters are organized around five themes that reflect emerging perspectives and approaches that suggest changing as well as consistent ways of thinking about social inequality. Chapters selected for Part I, starting with Charles Tilly's masterful and succinct historical perspective, provide essential theoretical foundations and conceptual frameworks that influenced and continue to influence the ways that subfields in sociology discuss and debate social inequalities. Part II contains chapters addressing epistemological and methodological concerns in researching social inequality, which range from the development of critical race theory to methodological concerns with measuring homelessness. Part III turns to the crucial mechanisms studied by sociologists at sites where social inequalities are reproduced. The four chapters focus on families in the context of childhood and parenting; communities in terms of migrant networks used in international migration; and the debates surrounding education, which long ago Horace Mann saw as the "great balance wheel" of society and which modern sociologists, from Structural Functionalists like James Coleman (1988 ) to Marxists like Bowles and Gintis (1976), saw as essential to meritocracy. The chapters organized in Part IV deal with the debates over policy responses to inequalities, including government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and social movements: what rights and claims to equity and citizenship can be made by the poor, criminals, disabled persons, sick people, and so on. The final section brings together analyses that are essential in understanding media and technology as sites of both oppression and resistance. The final chapter, an important work by Stephen Pfohl, reexamines theoretical inquiries discussed in Part I.
In Part I the authors provide comprehensive overviews of how inequalities have been conceptualized. Major themes that are addressed in the rest of the volume are given a sound grounding, including: social inclusion and exclusion, citizenship, politics of recognition, agency vs. structural explanations, subordination, domination, and resistance. Charles Tilly (Chapter 1) sets forth the basic premise that contemporary debates on inequalities are evaluated through a historical lens that distinguishes long-term changes as either distinctive or universal. He argues for an analysis that focuses on changes in the control of resources and examines the structures of exploitation and opportunity hoarding in the production, distribution, and consumption of resources. Tilly's goal is to provide a theoretical foundation for the study of social inequality that is not nation- or region-bound. In Chapter 2, Ronaldo Munck investigates debates on social inclusion and exclusion in the globalization discourse. He examines the complexity of global economic and social integration as articulated by the separate circumstances confronting North and South. He poses questions concerning the opportunities for diverse struggles to eliminate global inequality, and concludes his essay with an assessment of arguments identifying possible paths toward global justice. Sallie Westwood's chapter amplifies several questions raised in the previous two chapters. Her analysis of the rhetoric of process and rights, the discourse of the nation and modernity, and the spaces of opportunity for democratic struggles, poses a politics of recognition for racialized subjects. Highlighting the establishment of inequality from the point of nationhood, Westwood turns to examining institutional practices that maintain inequality through specific expressions of citizenship. She considers nationalism and resistance occurring in politics of recognition, as demonstrated by Mothers of the Disappeared, gay pride marches, Sydney Mardi Gras, and other collective activities. In the fourth chapter, Ken Plummer further expands the discussion of politics of recognition in exposing inequalities from the perspective of intimate rights. Similar to Charles Tilly's emphasis on identifying resources, Plummer problematizes the significantly different choices and inequalities that groups within society and across nations experience in the shaping of intimacy. Attending to the matrix of inequalities that includes both processes of social exclusion and the personal experience of inequalities, Plummer conceptualizes "citizenship of equalities" and "citizenship of choices." He highlights the limitation of choices versus the choices of luxury. In the final chapter in Conceptualizing Inequalities, Barry Adam returns to the question of the relation between subjectivity and social inequality. He provides a comprehensive synthesis of social theory, identifying points of agreement and disputes in theorizing domination, resistance, and subjectivity.
Chapters selected for Part II are diverse in subject matter but share a similar approach in formulating their contribution to the volume. Each of the scholars frames their argument around questions of epistemology and the methods used to research social inequality. Advocating a critical race theory approach in sociology of race relations, Tara J. Yosso and Daniel G. Solórzano's chapter underscores the failure of traditional US sociological approaches based on Eurocentric versions of history. They argue that such an approach constructs a hierarchy of cultural values that are based on the promise of social mobility through assimilation. In chronicling their own intellectual journey to critical race theory, they provide a brief overview of the emergence of critical race theory among legal scholars of color, and the later development of LatCrit. Suggesting compatibility with interdisciplinary social and racial justice research, they center racialized and gendered experiences at the center of social inequality analysis. In the next chapter, David Naguib Pellow traces the development of scholarship on environmental racism, environmental inequality, and environmental injustice. He simultaneously chronicles the emergence of the environmental justice movement within communities of color and poor and working-class White communities in the United States. Pellow's approach to the growing sociological field of environmental racism emphasizes the synergy of innovative methodologies. For instance, he shows how participatory research collaborations can link environmental inequalities to other social issues, including housing, transportation, the workplace, natural resources, immigration, and gender. In Chapter 8, Irene Browne and Joya Misra critique intersectionality as an under-theorized but potentially useful construct. In studying labor markets, they identify themes and questions posed by various conceptions of intersectionality, and the empirical challenges for researchers who would seek to employ the concept; three areas of study are synthesized to indicate methodological problems encountered in the use of quantitative and qualitative methods. In the final chapter in Epistemology, Method, and Inequality, Malcolm Williams uses the research on homelessness to demonstrate the challenges in researching social inequality, particularly hidden and hard-to-reach populations that are considered to be difficult to identify and uncharacteristic of the general population. Starting with the problem of defining homelessness — which has various meanings for particular societies and interest groups — he analyzes the methodological issues confronted by both definitional and enumeration strategies. Williams concludes the chapter with suggestions for alterative ways to conceptualize the inequalities of homelessness and alternative methodological approaches that apply to many other areas of social inequality.
Part III thoroughly examines social inequalities in families, communities, and education. This section includes comprehensive reviews of the literature, and introduces new themes and directions emerging in the sociology of family, immigrant communities, and education. The focus is generally on the reproduction of social inequality in areas that have traditionally been framed as primary sites for socialization, acculturation, and social change. By placing these four chapters together, the domain assumptions embedded in traditional approaches are purged; for example, the significance of studying childhood and parenting separately suggests the importance of these new directions in the study of social inequality. Similarly, the critical assessment of immigrant networks generates new questions about adaptability, social mobility, and social equality. Research on educational achievement and race, long dominated by genetic, cultural, and structural explanations, is related to traditions of studies on the family and immigrants. Julia Wrigley and Joanna Dreby's chapter incorporates the newly emerging field of the sociology of children, with literature on the impact of economic inequality on children. They suggest productive integrations to capture both structural analyses and the centrality of human choice and agency. Throughout their overview societal change in constructing childhood is evident, as is its effect of increasing inequality among children. In the chapter
on parenting and social inequality, Rachel Grob and Barbara Katz Rothman demonstrate how changing societal structures and ideologies function to produce and maintain social inequality within families as well as between families. They examine the axes of inequality (race, class, gender, sexuality, medicalization, professional expertise, and technology) that frame the choices or limitations in parenting (or not parenting). Included are discussions of conception, pregnancy, birth, and adoption. Grob and Katz Rothman's discussion of parenting practices in different ethnic communities, and the social networks available in each, makes an excellent segue into Steven J. Gold's chapter on migrant networks. His review of studies of migrant networks suggests that in the past they have been overly positive, and only recently have gender inequities and other restrictive membership, as well as the unequal allocation of resources, been considered. Gold's synthesis of the literature on network-based approaches to international migration centers on identifying significant conceptual and methodological problems that require attention to better assess the level of opportunity that networks offer migrant communities. The final chapter in this section examines race, education, and inequality by considering why indicators of educational achievement are significant and how they vary by race. Caroline Hodges Persell and Giselle F. Hendrie's thorough literature review will be useful to any scholars in this area. They review and evaluate the wide variety of explanations for variation in educational achievement by race and access. They make a major contribution to the literature by proposing a composite-theoretical model that has potential for much more sophisticated explanations for educational variations among racial groups and across nations.
Part IV deals forthrightly with policy responses to inequalities. In Chapter 14, Lynne Haney and Robin Rogers-Dillon critique the uses and abuses of feminist constructions of the independence–dependency debates on welfare. In the past, welfare dependency has been linked to a social pathology approach and "independence" has been employed to express normality and conceptualize the neoliberal connections between state, market, and familial institutions. Haney and Rogers-Dillon draw on their own research conducted in the United States and Hungary to develop the implications of an interdependence model. In the next chapter, Nigel South investigates social inequalities in the criminal justice system through the concept of citizenship. He examines the widening gap between the treatment of rich and poor persons accused of committing crime, but notes that the victims of crime are similarly placed in categories of "deserving" and "undeserving" when they are poor. Synthesizing the literature of both social and income inequality makes it clear that there is no easy causal relationship between poverty and crime; South concludes that it is essential to attend to issues of personal choice and responsibility as well as the social conditions in which citizens encounter the criminal justice system. The reader may find placing a chapter on disability in a section on policy responses to social inequality a bit odd, but Mark Priestley's overview of disability studies skillfully links the social construction of disability with institutional responses. He also reveals the impact that the international disabled people's movement has had in shaping academic discourse. Examining disability along dimensions of difference (gender, ethnicity, generation, class, and sexuality), Priestley draws attention to the significance of cultural values in defining disability and imagining solutions that follow. In the chapter on the culture of medicine, Mary-Jo DelVecchio Good, Cara James, Byron J. Good, and Anne E. Becker report on their investigation into the ways that health care providers deliver inequitable care. They synthesize the literature on many aspects of medical culture, including health care delivery, medical training, medical decision making, the actions of individuals, and institutional cultures and practices that contribute to disparities in the health status and medical treatment of ethnic and racial populations in the United States. Claudia Bell's chapter on tourism and social inequality exposes the deep ironies of tourism. Social policies advocate tourism for economic expansion and cultural exchange when, in reality, little economic advantage is gained by Third World host populations, most of whom become a servant class. Drawing on her research on backpacking tourism in Pretoria and Botswana, Bell illustrates how tourism depends on the social construction "otherness." However, well-heeled Western tourists are cocooned to the point where they rarely ever encounter the "other" outside of circumstances as tightly controlled as spectators of a museum diorama. Drawing on primary research in Indian villages, Tulsi Patel and Navtej Purewal's chapter rounds out the discussion of policy responses to social inequality. They criticize the origins of the population debate, chronicling theories, government policies, laws, and social movements limiting population growth among targeted populations.
Part V is pivotal in bringing the volume of social inequalities full circle. These chapters identify debates over the role of new media and technologies in maintaining or dismantling inequalities. Processes of reproduction and normalization of inequality, as well as disruption and resistance, lie coiled at the heart of the technologies of global communication. In his chapter, "Selling Images of Inequality: Hollywood Cinema and the Reproduction of Racial and Gender Stereotypes," Norman K. Denzin offers an overview of cinematic history that identifies key historical moments and structural processes producing and reinforcing negative representations of minorities in the United States. This chapter also contrasts the critical cultural approach and the traditional sociological approaches to the study of cinema. Although in his conclusion Denzin argues that there is a potential for Hollywood cinema to become a progressive force challenging inequality, he is generally making the cultural imperialism case. Taking an entirely different approach to representation, Chris Barker claims that US cultural hegemony has not occurred and argues that television viewers read and decode images based on their own national and ethnic positions. Even if Hollywood offers negative stereotypes, he suggests, they are not consumed uncritically. Denzin attempts to systematically identify historical moments with corresponding versions of class-based American racial representation, thus making visible the ideological underpinnings in popular culture. Barker, on the other hand, counters that "television could act as a cultural and social interpreter and promote an arena of communicative equality and solidarity in which to present diverse values." Unlike many critical cultural studies scholars in the field, Barker contends that nation-states and language communities have retained control over public and commercial television, and disputes the cultural imperialism thesis from the context of audience research.
Moving away from the globalization of film and television, the next chapter turns to the complex questions of assessing the digital divide as producing and reinforcing social inequality or offering an avenue toward equality. Wenhong Chen and Barry Wellman identify three scenarios that frame the literature; they then suggest competing perspectives on the Internet and the question of social inequality: equalization, amplification, and transformation. They conclude by summarizing the conceptual and methodological gaps in the existing literature that contribute to inconclusive and paradoxical findings. The concluding chapter in this section addresses all the major arguments and debates in the previous chapters. In his chapter, "New Global Technologies of Power: Cybernetic Capitalism and Social Inequality," Stephen Pfohl reasons that a historical analysis is essential to understanding the impact that technology has on social life. He provides a genealogy that traces the links of social power and technology from the onset of Northwestern modernity. Each major technological advancement has transformed our social world. The second half of Pfohl's chapter constitutes an overview of the global distribution of power entailed in cybernetic control mechanisms and identifies the means of accessing these new forms of power. Responding to the question, "Why have the utopian dreams of cyberneticians been transformed into the global economic nightmares and social injustices depicted by more recent observers?," he concludes by assessing both cybernetic sites of power and control, as well as subversion, resistance, and transformation.
The dominant themes in this anthology are social inclusion and exclusion –and resistance. Although issues of agency and structure continue to dominate the discussion, throughout the entire volume the sociologists can be seen engaging in common attempts to assess the most promising ways to conceptualize all-embracing social inequalities and allow for comparative research. Far from the twentieth-century grand narratives of stratification theory and equality of opportunity or class analysis and imperialism, these sociological investigations reveal a discipline that is much less narrow, methodologically obsessed, and boundary maintaining than it has been in the past. In defining social inequalities, recognizing the centrality of a society's values surrounding issues of equity, fairness, and justice, as well as centering individual agency, rights, and obligations, the authors moved to incorporate much that was developed in diverse fields, including: women's studies, ethnic studies, cultural studies, history, the law, and anthropology/ethnology, to name but a few. Embedded in the synthesis of the literature within the diverse fields of study are social constructions of inequalities that eschew the construction of master narratives in favor of recognizing differences among various populations and distinguishing between inequalities that destroy life or threaten life chances, from those involving quality of life, and others that limit the range of opportunities available. In this work we are given new tools and asked to consider new questions: How shall sociologists conceptualize the different levels of inequality, within and between nations? How can we unpack the particular institutions – family, education, welfare, criminal system, and media – that dominate our lives? Given the multiple layers of oppression and discrimination in such things as intimate citizenship or population policies, what is justice? Where do the rights and obligations of individual, state, and nation converge and diverge? How do our personal and political identities – class position and consciousness, sexual behaviors, abilities, racial, ethnic, national, and citizenship – facilitate or frustrate the mitigation of inequalities? What forms of resistance are even possible given the advanced cybernetic technologies for surveillance and behavior control?
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