A pioneering book that takes us beyond economic debate to show how inequality is returning us to a past dominated by empires, dynastic elites, and ethnic divisions.
The economic facts of inequality are clear. The rich have been pulling away from the rest of us for years, and the super-rich have been pulling away from the rich. More and more assets are concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. Mainstream economists say we need not worry; what matters is growth, not distribution. In The Return of Inequality, acclaimed sociologist Mike Savage pushes back, explaining inequality’s profound deleterious effects on the shape of societies.
Savage shows how economic inequality aggravates cultural, social, and political conflicts, challenging the coherence of liberal democratic nation-states. Put simply, severe inequality returns us to the past. By fracturing social bonds and harnessing the democratic process to the strategies of a resurgent aristocracy of the wealthy, inequality revives political conditions we thought we had moved beyond: empires and dynastic elites, explosive ethnic division, and metropolitan dominance that consigns all but a few cities to irrelevance. Inequality, in short, threatens to return us to the very history we have been trying to escape since the Age of Revolution.
Westerners have been slow to appreciate that inequality undermines the very foundations of liberal democracy: faith in progress and trust in the political community’s concern for all its members. Savage guides us through the ideas of leading theorists of inequality, including Marx, Bourdieu, and Piketty, revealing how inequality reimposes the burdens of the past. At once analytically rigorous and passionately argued, The Return of Inequality is a vital addition to one of our most important public debates.
A major sociological contribution to the ongoing global debate on inequality and the return of social class. A must-read.
With a wide-ranging, original, and visionary argument and engagingly written, The Return of Inequality is a major contribution, the crowning of an exceptionally productive career focused on the sociology of inequality, social change, and culture in the UK, Europe, and the world.
Empirical analyses have documented increasing inequality over recent decades. There have been passionate calls to action. But the analyses and the action need to be linked by careful consideration of just how to think about inequality, including its locations, dimensions, forms, and visceral experiences. The Return of Inequality responds to that need with insight, deep thought, and important new perspective.
For Savage, there is a link between the rise of an ‘inequality paradigm’ (focused especially on wealth, rather than income) and movements such as Black Lives Matter and Rhodes Must Fall, which seek to address the economic legacy of historical injustices. The spotlight that has fallen on Russian oligarchs since the invasion of Ukraine is another manifestation of the inequality paradigm, emphasizing the links between present injustices (not to say humanitarian catastrophes) and political-economic maneuvering dating back to the 1990s.
This highly original book deploys a unique combination of history, classic sociology, cultural sociology, and contemporary economics. Savage makes a compelling argument about how the legacy of the past combines with capitalist accumulation to affect inequalities of race, gender, and class around the world. His sophisticated reflections about the visual representation of inequality inform a broader inquiry into how the achievements and limits of social science shape the new politics of inequality. The book defines the emerging field of comparative global inequality.
Savage’s provocative book compels us to seek organizational answers.
A much-needed and highly insightful intellectual history of the concept and analysis of inequality…Extremely well written, engaging, and learned…It should be read carefully by social scientists who study inequality.
- 448 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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