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Renewing an academic interest in structural inequalities

Machin, David and Richardson, John E. 2008. Renewing an academic interest in structural inequalities. Critical Discourse Studies 5 (4) , pp. 281-287. 10.1080/17405900802405148

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Class and class divisions remain central forces in shaping the ways we live. Indeed, arguably, in neo-liberal capitalist societies, class remains the primary division of structured social inequality. Official reports still speak of the vast inequalities in access to wealth, power and resources that characterise Western developed countries (Institute for Fiscal Studies, 2007; Institute for Public Policy Research, 2004; UNICEF, 2000). Massive sections of our populations experience inadequate access to employment, housing, education, nutrition and healthcare. These inequalities cut across ethnic, ‘racial’ and gender groups and seem, on one level, to create a shared set of life experiences and responses. In many of our cities we find whole areas where those formerly engaged in industrial production, including those who once arrived from overseas to offer cheaper labour, now find themselves marginalised from the current needs of neo-capitalism, creating new kinds of social classes. A Joseph Rowntree Foundation report (2005) on (in)equality in Britain recently described the continuing correlations between wealth and educational success, between wealth and access to good healthcare. It also commented on the fact that the areas where many second homes remain vacant most of the year are also areas where local people struggle to find accommodation. About 3 million homes in the UK have more than three cars and the same number have none. It also showed that in families where there were no adults in employment children were more likely to be found as full-time carers. The report concludes that perversely it is the poorest people who have the most need but also least access to resources. However, to many, the study of social class, or ‘social stratification’ as it became known in sociology, has been long out of date. Once it formed the heart of sociology, but as the traditional working classes seemed to disappear with the demise of manufacturing, academics that had wanted to champion class in the Marxist tradition drifted to other causes. Yet, meanwhile, it is clear that we live in societies where who you are, who you can become, are to a significant extent shaped by your socio-economic – or class – position in society.

Item Type: Article
Status: Published
Schools: Journalism, Media and Culture
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
ISSN: 17405904
Last Modified: 19 Mar 2016 22:29

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