Ananya Roy, director of UCLA Luskin’s new Institute on Inequality and Democracy, is concerned about the ubiquitous presence of inequality discourse within and beyond the academy. As one mechanism for the “repoliticization” of inequality, Roy calls for revived and critical attention to the concept of poverty. In particular, Roy focuses on impoverishment (and responses to it) as an active social process, how poverty comes to be defined as a social problem, and, at a global level, how conventional notions of North and South need to be reimagined in order to grasp the transnational dimensions of poverty and inequality.
Elizabeth Anderson’s essay in our “What is Inequality?” series calls attention to the limits of conceptualizing inequality through the lenses of distribution and discrimination. Anderson emphasizes a relational approach to inequality, one that focuses on enduring social hierarchies. Looking at inequality relationally, Anderson argues, better helps us understand the goals of egalitarian social movements in a way that encompasses claims for distributional fairness and the elimination of discriminatory practices.
Erik Olin Wright helps launch our “What Is Inequality?” series by offering two narratives of inequality. One focuses on individual attributes and the norm of equal opportunity, the other on social and political structures and democracy as a normative ideal. In arguing for the structural approach, Wright contends that power relations shape the distribution of opportunities, and thus inequalities, in ways that are beyond what can be captured by a perspective that focuses on individual attributes alone.