The Working Class and Social Inequality in the 21st Century: Wendy Bottero & Shamus Khan
Unpacking the Modern Working Class & the Classes and Elites Research Seminar present two seminars on the Working Class and Social Inequality in the 21st Century.
In this second webinar, Wendy Bottero (University of Manchester) will discuss research on ordinary people’s understandings of inequality and Shamus Khan (Princeton University) will give a talk in which he argues that contemporary understandings of inequality are obscured by elite- and economic determinism.
The event will be on Zoom. Use this link.
Wendy Bottero: “Rethinking the problem of subjective inequality.”
A key theme in work on subjective inequality is the question of how inequalities are rendered more or less visible, not least because analysts have long identified a ‘problem’ with ordinary people’s understandings. But are people’s understandings really so restricted? I critically interrogate the claim that ordinary people’s understandings of inequality are limited, paradoxical or mystified, and consider whether the restricted visions found in ordinary people’s sense of inequality are partly a reflection of the restricted vision of analysts. I argue that if we locate people’s knowledge, beliefs and values about inequality within a more situated understanding of their practical engagements and concerns then their sense of inequality seems less distorted or naturalised and starts to make better sense.
Shamus Khan: “Two Burdens of the legacy of 'Capital': Elite and Economic Determinism.”
Because we see elites working so hard to define culture, preserve the value of their networks, and create moats and fences around the institutions they control, we tend to assume that elites are more dominant in determining non-economic forms of life than they are. I’m going to refer to this burden as the burden of “elite determinism.” The second burden comes from that word itself; “capital” carries with it implications that cloud our ability to make sense of how non-economic resources work within our society. It’s not simply the Marxian weight of “capital” that can be difficult to bear. It’s in the heavy legacy of the second burden, which I will call “economic determinism.” By determinism here I don’t mean that everything—culture, politics, religion, gender, etc.—is epiphenomenal to economic conditions. I instead mean that there is a conceptual legacy to economic thinking that gets carried over into non-economic conditions which yield conceptual inaccuracies. That’s because money has a rather unique character: it’s fungible. If I have a dollar, and if you have a dollar, we have the same amount of money, no matter who we are. But that’s not how culture works. It’s not how social connections work. It’s not how symbols work. And it’s not even how ideas work. And yet frequently when talking about “capital” we use a monetary analogy of being “like money in your wallet” that obscures important features of non-economic capital. The most significant of those features is that value can be conditional on the position of the holder; our failure to recognize this obscures important dynamics of inequality.