Durable Inequality

Durable Inequality

Durable Inequality

Durable Inequality

Synopsis

Charles Tilly, in this eloquent manifesto, presents a powerful new approach to the study of persistent social inequality. How, he asks, do long-lasting, systematic inequalities in life chances arise, and how do they come to distinguish members of different socially defined categories of persons? Exploring representative paired and unequal categories, such as male/female, black/white, and citizen/noncitizen, Tilly argues that the basic causes of these and similar inequalities greatly resemble one another. In contrast to contemporary analyses that explain inequality case by case, this account is one of process. Categorical distinctions arise, Tilly says, because they offer a solution to pressing organizational problems. Whatever the "organization" is--as small as a household or as large as a government--the resulting relationship of inequality persists because parties on both sides of the categorical divide come to depend on that solution, despite its drawbacks. Tilly illustrates the social mechanisms that create and maintain paired and unequal categories with a rich variety of cases, mapping out fertile territories for future relational study of durable inequality.

Excerpt

We could reasonably call James Gillray (1757–1815) Britain’s first professional cartoonist (George 1967, 57; Hill 1976). He left us unforgettable images of public and private affairs under George III. Very few handsome people figure in Gillray’s caricatures. In the savage portrayals of British life he drew, etched, and colored toward 1800, beefy, red-faced aristocrats commonly tower over other people, while paupers almost invariably appear as small, gaunt, and gnarled. If Gillray painted his compatriots with malice, however, he also observed them acutely.

Take the matter of height. Let us consider fourteen-year-old entrants to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst to represent the healthier portion of the aristocracy and gentry, and fourteen-year-old recruits for naval service via London’s Marine Society to represent the healthier portion of the city’s jobless poor. At the nineteenth century’s start, poor boys of fourteen averaged only 4 feet 3 inches tall, while aristocrats and gentry of the same age averaged about 5 feet 1 inch (Floud, Wachter, and . . .

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