Editorial forward: processes of social inequality

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Article publication date: 25 July 2008


Lambert, P. (2008), "Editorial forward: processes of social inequality", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 28 No. 7/8. https://doi.org/10.1108/ijssp.2008.03128gaa.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Editorial forward: processes of social inequality

Article Type: Guest editorial From: International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Volume 28, Issue 7/8.

The long-running series of “Social Stratification Research Seminars”[1] is concerned with the sociological study of social stratification and inequality. This issue of International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy brings together five papers delivered to the September 2006 meeting of that seminar group[2]. Each paper looks at a particular mechanism or approach, which impacts on our sociological understanding of empirical processes involved in the reproduction and endurance of social stratification inequalities. Collectively, each study contributes to our understanding of “processes of social inequality”.

The issue begins with a significant contribution by Blackburn, which draws attention to two common flaws in conceptualisations of social inequality in contemporary (academic and political) literature. These comprise,

  1. 1.

    a failure to recognise the conceptual distinction between “equality” and “identity”, and

  2. 2.

    a reluctance to acknowledge the relevance of gradations of difference between extreme points of social equality and inequality.

Blackburn illustrates how a more suitable sociological understanding of inequalities could be achieved, which has better chance of both understanding, and addressing, social processes, which contribute to contemporary inequalities.

The articles by David, Irwin and Williams extend this volume's exploration of how social scientists can understand social inequality. David provides a review of three influential projects, which have studied gender inequalities in work and education in the UK over some 30 years of research and debate. Reflecting on the historical development of the projects' diverse conclusions and methodologies, her analysis identifies important – but complementary – contributions made by the alternative approaches.

Irwin's work in this volume also demonstrates how research into social inequalities benefits from wide ranging – perhaps pluralistic – approaches. Irwin argues that a combined analysis of people's overt activities, and their beliefs and values (the “structural” and the “normative”) is necessary to fully appreciate the combinations of processes that shape contemporary inequalities. An analysis, which confronts the interaction of structural and normative pressures, and their contribution to the production and reproduction of social inequalities, is illustrated in Irwin's paper through qualitative research evidence on attitudes to work for women living with young children in post-war Britain, and on attitudes to national identity held by ethnic minority groups in contemporary Bradford.

Williams' focus in her exploratory review of “human trafficking” turns to the impact of national and international policies, and their interaction with internal social stratification inequalities, in creating the conditions which tolerate this illegal and immoral activity on a large scale in the contemporary period. Similar to the papers by Irwin and David, Williams' study can be presented as an illustration of how certain types of social inequalities emerge through, and are perpetuated by, a complex function of distinctive social processes.

The collection of papers concludes with an empirically driven study of national patterns in social inequalities as they are related to patterns in family migration. It is worth making a methodological claim that such nationally representative empirical studies constitute the foundations that distinguish sociology from social commentary, since it is an important feature of this volume, and the Social Stratification Research Seminars more generally, that representative empirical enquiries are presented in close proximity to – and directly inform – more focussed and theoretical accounts. In their analysis, Gayle et al. identify a literature on the possible detrimental female experience associated with geographical mobility (such as the well known “trailing wife” characterisation). Gayle et al. uses a powerful survey dataset (the British Household Panel Survey) to undertake an exploratory review of the effects of family moves upon individual and household circumstances. Their important conclusion is that the process of geographical mobility (within a country) does not usually have a substantial effect on the experience of social stratification inequalities. This is in contradistinction to numerous other studies, which have arguably used less-authoritative data resources, and Gayle et al. conclude that the study of processes of social inequality related to migration requires longitudinal data, such as that provided by the BHPS, which has not always been available to researchers on migration.

Paul LambertGuest Editor


1. See www.camsis.stir.ac.uk/stratif/2. Another collection of papers from this meeting is found in a previous issue of International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 28 Nos. 5-6, thematic title “Work and social stratification”.