The Politics of Inequality: Volume 28

Cover of The Politics of Inequality
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Table of contents

(14 chapters)

Prelims

Pages i-xix
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Part 1 Making Inequality Part of the Political and Policy Agenda

Abstract

In recent years there has been a dramatic expansion in both the number and scope of policy proposals explicitly intended to reduce inequality proffered by policymakers in the Democratic Party. In the following, it is argued that this state of affairs is the result of a complex series of developments triggered by the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests. OWS dramatically enhanced both the salience and the politicization of economic inequality. These developments altered the strategies of elites and organizations within the institutional left and advantaged elite movement allies within the Democratic Party. In combination, these indirect and elite-mediated responses resulted in antiinequality positions becoming integrated into both the partisan identity and the platform of the Democratic Party. Despite the Occupy movement being relatively short-lived and explicitly eschewing reliance on institutional politics, it nonetheless had a significant impact on conventional politics. By significantly shifting the political discourse around the issue of inequality, the movement reshaped the political landscape in a manner that created new opportunities and openings for political actors. As organizations within the Democratic Party's coalition increasingly adopted antiinequality messaging this both pressured and incentivized establishment Democrats to fully embrace an antiinequality agenda. This account is consistent with a theory of political parties in which the key actors are activists and interest groups, not party leaders, and social movement research that suggests that movements are often more influential in the earliest stages of the policymaking process.

Abstract

At a time when the US federal government failed to act on climate change, California's success as a subnational climate policy leader has been widely celebrated. However, California's landmark climate law drove a wedge between two segments of the state's environmental community. On one side was a coalition of “market-oriented” environmental social movement organizations (SMOs), who allied with private corporations to advance market-friendly climate policy. On the other side was a coalition of “justice-oriented” environmental SMOs, who viewed capitalist markets as the problem and sought climate policy that would mitigate the uneven distribution of environmental harms within the state. The social movement literature is not well equipped to understand this case, in which coalitional politics helped one environmental social movement succeed in its policy objectives at the expense of another. In this chapter, we draw on legislative and regulatory texts, archival material, and interviews with relevant political actors to compare the policymaking influence of each of these coalitions, and we argue that the composition of the two coalitions is the key to understanding why one was more successful than the other. At the same time, we point out the justice-oriented coalition's growing power, as market-oriented SMOs seek to preserve their legitimacy.

Part 2 The Politics of Welfare State Retrenchment

Abstract

What role do people's attitudes toward social policies play for the politics of welfare state reform? This chapter contributes to a growing scholarship on policy responsiveness in welfare state research with a longitudinal comparative case study of the Bismarckian welfare states of France and Germany. Quantitative analyses of changes in mean attitudes as well as polarization and inequalities of attitudes based on the 1996, 2006, and 2016 waves of the International Social Survey Program (ISSP) Role of Government module are triangulated with a thick description of social policy changes. While recommodifying and defamilializing reforms in Germany transformed the welfare state fundamentally, there was more continuity in the French welfare state, in spite of a stronger focus on labor market activation policies. The quantitative results suggest that lower attitudinal stability toward the welfare state in Germany and lower polarization evoked a higher willingness for reform than in France, where more polarized attitudes and overall marginal changes in attitudes gave French governments less maneuverability in adopting reforms. In both countries, I find no evidence for an upper-class bias in policy responsiveness. In sum, my research supports the claim that change in public opinion toward the welfare state and diverging attitudes within societies play a role for the timing and direction of reforms.

Abstract

Welfare state retrenchment in advanced industrialized countries seeks to expand market-like logics in public services, based on the assumption that public services benefit from non-state initiative and competition. This logic gained a stronghold in policymaking, but its implementation nevertheless struggled to find acceptance. Public university tuition is one such case where policymakers aimed to increase investment in human capital through cost sharing. While students in some countries accept them as a necessary evil, opposition arises in others. Students in Germany and Turkey took to the streets in support of tuition-free higher education. Despite differences in their political contexts and the differential mediating role political culture plays, student mobilization reversed right-wing parties' policies. This article focuses on how opposition to tuition policies is covered by the news in both countries. Using a mixed-methods approach combining topic modeling with qualitative analysis, I show that student protests and tuition policy discussions are reported separately. In both countries, student protests involving confrontation were highlighted whereas reports on institutional actors dominated policy discussions. However, when movements pressure political parties to “own” an issue in their platform, party endorsement subsequently amplifies issue salience even if movement organizations and parties are not covered together by the media. This indicates an indirect effect of movements' collective action on news coverage. Political party endorsements mediate the amount of coverage movement issues receive. This finding provides insights into how opposition to welfare state retrenchment might navigate difficulties in closed media cultures that heavily favor institutional actors.

Abstract

A growing body of work suggests that welfare and punishment should be understood as alternative, yet interconnected ways of governing poor and marginalized populations. While there is considerable evidence of a punitive turn in welfare and penal institutions over the past half century, recent studies show that welfare and carceral institutions increasingly comanage millions of people caught at the intersection of the welfare and penal sectors. The growth of “mass supervision” and the expansion of the social services sector help explain the blurring of welfare and punishment in the United States in daily practice. We suggest that these developments complicate the idea of an institutional trade-off and contend that welfare and punishment are best understood along a continuum of state management in which poor and socially marginalized populations are subjected to varying degrees of support, surveillance, and sanction. In presenting the punishment–welfare continuum, we pay particular attention to the “murky middle” between the two spheres: an interinstitutional space that has emerged in the context of mass supervision and a social services–centric safety net. We show that people caught in the “murky middle” receive some social supports and services, but also face pervasive surveillance and control and must adapt to the tangle of obligations and requirements in ways that both extend punishment and limit their ability to successfully participate in mainstream institutions.

Part 3 The Political, Social, and Economic Impacts of Inequality on Vulnerable Groups

Abstract

Communities are critical sites for studying the politics of inequality within neoliberal capitalism. We illustrate this by providing regional case studies of the enactments and outcomes of three types of neoliberal policies in the United States: (1) cutbacks in family planning policies, (2) municipal underbounding and failures to provide public infrastructure within unincorporated communities, and (3) “tough on crime” policies leading to mass incarceration. Building on insights from intersectional feminist theory and using evidence from in-depth interviews from three Southwestern communities, we argue that neoliberal capitalism is compounding intersecting inequalities affecting women of color. In particular, we claim that neoliberal policies at the local and state levels are compromising the reproductive autonomy and public health of women of color and creating new challenges for their family care work.

Abstract

The lived experience of HIV+ Black MSM (men who have sex with men) in the South exposes persistent racialized inequality. With the highest rates of HIV diagnosis in the country, Black MSM are made to feel unequal within the US LGBTQ community, thereby perpetuating long-standing inequalities between the groups. We argue that Whites' and Blacks' differing conceptions of racial equality serve to limit the extent to which comprehensive LGBTQ equality is possible as whiteness frames the LGBTQ experience in the United States. Examining how the country's racist story of nonaccess, representation, and exclusion has stymied coalition building to eliminate inequalities, findings reveal the structural impediments toward racial parity. Utilizing the case study of HIV+ Black MSM in the South, we examine the persistence of inequality amid the thrice interwoven intramarginalization of feeling excluded from sociopolitical spaces, having limited political representation, and engaging with racist body politics.

Abstract

Mobilization by diaspora activists against illiberalism in their country of origin and by immigrants for equality in their country of settlement has received widespread attention in political science and sociology, respectively. However, because extant studies treat these mobilizations as distinct types, little is known about the relationship between diaspora and immigrant mobilization. This chapter addresses this theoretical gap using 167 interviews with Syrian and Yemeni activists in the United States and Britain. The findings demonstrate how Syrian and Yemeni diaspora mobilization in support of the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions facilitated their visibility and voice as immigrants. Syrians built an organizational field with the capacity to contest host-country discrimination and local extremism; Yemenis instituted protests and brokerage that shaped the context of reception for home-country elites and challenged intragroup inequality. At the same time, economic disparities between national groups shaped their capacities to diversify tactics and sustain efforts over time. My chief claim is that diaspora mobilization facilitates immigrant voice and visibility but is mitigated in important ways by group-wise resources. The chapter concludes by emphasizing the importance of voice and visibility among marginalized groups subjected to intersecting repressions.

Part 4 Mobilizing against Inequality

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Abstract

Social inequality is a key recurring theme animating various protest movements over the past decade. Take, for example, the Occupy Wall Street movement conceived by many as a new global movement phenomenon. Others, however, maintain that these demonstrations displayed characteristics typical of “old” social movements. We argue that in order to understand differences between old and new movements, it is necessary to compare Occupy protests with other contemporaneous anti-austerity protests, as demonstrators in both protested against stark inequality following the financial meltdown. To do so, we rely on the Caught in the Act of Protest data where data were collected at actual demonstrations at Occupy protests and anti-austerity protests between 2009 and 2012. We examine sociodemographics (the who of protest), motivational dynamics (the why of protest), and mobilization dynamics (the how of protest). We find that the two types of demonstrations brought different crowds into the streets. Occupy protesters were younger, higher educated, and much less involved in formal organizations compared to anti-austerity demonstrators. Moreover, Occupiers were more dissatisfied with democracy. Finally, we discuss these findings against contemporary anti-inequality mobilization. We argue that political entrepreneurs on the (populist) left and/or the right will politicize current inequality-related grievances and mobilize people in the streets and/or at the voting booth.

Abstract

Labor unions play a key role in combating inequality. Recent research focuses on unions' ability to shape “moral economies” that make greater inequality socially inappropriate. But this research largely hypothesizes moral economy pathways for combating inequality, rather than showing them in action. Through a case study of the 2018 teachers' strike wave, we identify mechanisms that allow unions to shape moral economies. Based on analysis of in-depth interviews with key strike leaders, social media discussion groups, and contemporaneous media coverage, we find that the interaction of sustained mass disruption and worker–organizer intervention were the key mechanisms that allowed the teachers and their unions to reshape moral economies. Externally, the strikes created a social and political crisis to which political elites had to respond, while tying the teachers' struggles to broader community issues, galvanizing public support for the strikes. As disruptions escalated, the teachers' experience of collective action created a positive feedback effect, reshaping workers' understanding of what they wanted, what they deserved, and what they could win. The 2018 teachers' strike is analytically useful because it managed to reshape norms and expectations around educational and economic inequality rapidly, on a large scale.

Abstract

Prior social movement research has focused on the role that axes of inequality – particularly race, class, gender, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) status – play for who participates and how they do so. Age is another important axis of inequality. The pervasiveness of a youth deficit model, which casts young people as deficient and requiring benevolent adult tutelage, is of particular concern for youth. This chapter assesses whether the internalization of the deficit model influences young people's activism and how they perceive their engagement. Drawing on interviews with 40 high school and college students from a southwestern US city, we find that many young people have internalized deficit-model assumptions, affecting when and how they participated. This was most evident among high school students, who limited their participation because they were “not old enough” or gravitated toward more “age-appropriate” forms of activism. Interestingly, we found college students were more willing to engage in online activism but also felt compelled to do significant research on issues before participating, thereby distancing themselves from the deficit model's assumptions of their political naivety. Finally, some participants felt discouraged by the perceived ineffectiveness of protest, which resonated with deficit model narratives of the futility of youth engagement. These findings highlight the importance of understanding the impacts of an internalized deficit model as well as considering age as an axis of inequality in activism. Youth engagement is best supported by seeing young people as capable actors with unique interests, capacities, and points of view.

Abstract

Scholars have shown many ways that social movements and democracy are deeply connected. Here, we demonstrate a previously unexplored process by which social movements alter democratic practice. Democratic movements are often experienced as insufficiently democratic by the very activists who participate in them, impelling new practices. We present examples from recent research on democratic movements and then contend that this is a common occurrence. Building on Hirschman's analysis of organizational change, we develop a theoretical account of why activists find movements for democracy disappointing and try to correct this, either by transforming the organizations they are in or creating new ones. Hirschman categorized responses to organizational challenges as Voice and Exit; we define a combination of these we call Semi-Exit as a useful extension. We then show in some detail how both disappointment and creativity have been generated in two major movement arenas: transnational activism that links social justice with environmental concerns and the Occupy Movement.

Index

Pages 263-273
Content available
Cover of The Politics of Inequality
DOI
10.1108/S0895-9935202128
Publication date
2021-07-19
Book series
Research in Political Sociology
Editor
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-83909-363-0
eISBN
978-1-83909-362-3
Book series ISSN
0895-9935