Chapter 3 Class Counts: Social Class and Class Relations

НазваниеChapter 3 Class Counts: Social Class and Class Relations
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The Politics of Social Inequality in Canada:

Augie Fleras

Sociology Department



Table of Contents



Chapter 1 – The Iniquities of Inequality

Chapter 2 - Conceptualizing Social Inequality


Chapter 3 - Social Class and Class Relations

Chapter 4 - The Poverty of the Underclass

Chapter 5 - Gendered Inequities

Chapter 6 - Racializing Inequality

Chapter 7 - Aboriginal Peoples: Canada’s First Inequality


Chapter 8 - The New Economy, New Inequalities

Chapter 9 - Education and Schooling

Chapter 10 - Media: Mediating Inequality


Chapter 11 - Globalization and Global Inequality

Chapter 12 - Equality Matters, Too

Reference List





Chapter 1 – The Iniquities of Inequalit

Introduction: Surveying Social Inequality in Canada

Social Inequality: Politics and Paradoxes

Framing Social Inequality

Inequality Matters, Sociologically Speaking

Chapter 2 - Conceptualizing Social Inequality

Introduction: Problematizing Social Inequality?

Deconstructing Social Inequality: The ‘Social’ Matters

What’s the Inequality in Social Inequalityi

Explaining Social Inequality: Who’s to Blame?


Chapter 3 - Class Counts: Social Class and Class Relations

Introduction: Class Inequality as Life or Death on the Titanic Contesting the Class Concept

Conceptualizing Social Classes: Real or Constructed?

The Hyper-rich Class: Return of the Robber Barons

Classed Media: Media Representations of Social Classes

Chapter 4 – The Poverty of the Underclass

Introduction: The Poverty of the Poor

The Scope of Poverty in Canada: Playing the Numbers Game

Framing Poverty: Absolute or Relative, Needs or Inclusion

The Lash of the Underclass

Homelessness: Street Level Poverty

Putting Poverty into Perspective

Chapter 5 - Gendered Inequities

Introduction: You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby(?)

Gendered Inequalities: Canada and Abroad

Minority Women: Minorities Within Minorities

Explaining Gendered Inequality: Intersectionality & Intrasectionality

Chapter 6 - Racializing Inequality

Introduction: The Racialization of Inequality

Patterns of Racialized Inequality

Explaining Racialized Disparities

Chapter 7 - Aboriginal Peoples: Canada’s First Inequality

Introduction: First Nations, Second Class Citizens, Third World Conditions

Attawapiskat: Where Dying in Slow Motion is a Way of Life

Solving the “Indian” Problem: Assimilation, Accommodation, Autonomy


Chapter 8 - The New Economy, New Inequalities

Introduction: A Brave New Work World

From Jobs to Joblessness: A Crisis in the Making

Rethinking Work: A Two Tiered Workplace

Diversifying the Workplace: Towards Inclusivity

Policing as Inclusivity in a Multiversal World

Chapter 9 - Education and Schooling

Introduction: Schooling as Inequality, Inequality as Schooling

Inclusive Schooling: Multicultural Education and Anti -racist Schooling

Universities in Crisis: Ivory Tower Inequalities

Remodelling the Academic Enterprise

Chapter 10 - Mainstream Media: Mediated Inequality

Introduction: Mediated Inequity

Media: Commercially Driven, Socially Constructed, Ideologically Loaded

Racialized Media, Mediated Racism

Engendered Media

Towards Media Inclusivity


Chapter 11 - Globalization and Global Inequality

Introduction: Globalization as Inequality, Inequality as Globalization

Framing Globalization as Social Inequality

Conceptualizing Globalization

Global Inequality Problems

Addressing Globlal Inequalities: Foreign Aid & (Under?)Development

Chapter 12 - Equality Matters Too

Introduction: Imagine no possessions… John Lennon

Conceptualizing Social Equality

Employment Equity: Illusions of Inclusion?

Toward an Inclusive Capitalism: People over Profits


As far as clichés go, challenging social inequality is an idea whose time has come. Social inequality is very much in the news, thanks to the combination of populist uprisings in (a) Arab countries during 2010/11, (b) the ‘anarchy in the UK’ riots later that summer and (c) the Occupying Movements that pitted the unruly 99 % against the excesses of the 1%. The gap between the have-it-alls and the have-nots – between exhorbitant executive pay packages and the stagnant household incomes of those whose wages have flat-lined - creates an adverse effect that puts people behind while pulling society apart (Mackenzie 2011). Astonishing levels of poverty in a resource rich Canada constitutes a profound source of embarrassment at home and abroad. No less embarrasing is the reality of highly skilled immigrants stuck in survival jobs; the persistence of women in full time employment earning just over 70 cents for every dollar earned by men (it’s a bit more complex than that); and the spectre of highly educated youth wallowing in the quintessential contradiction of the 21st century –a jobless economy of high unemployment yet serious labour shortages (Saunders 2011). Of particular note is mounting dismay over the scandalous conditions in many Aboriginal communities, including Attawapiskat along James Bay. That many Aboriginal peoples across Canada continue to living in squalor comparable to that of the global south is a scathing indictment of an unequal Canada that professes to be otherwise.

Clearly, then, Canada is a paradox. To one side, Canada commits ideologically to the principles of social equality and inclusivity for all Canadians. This ideological commitment translates into practice. Of 34 leading countries surveyed by the OECD’s Better Life Index (2011), Canada ranks second best to Australia in a weighing of eleven topics ranging from material living conditions to quality of life indicators, including health, life satisfaction, and work-life balance. To the other side is a Canada both deeply stratified and exclusive of the historically disadvantaged. Patterns of inequality are shown to be institutionally embedded, beyond most peoples awareness, harmful to the most vulnerable of society, and resistant to change. To another side, a more mixed picture appears. Canadians seemingly endorse progressive policies and inclusionary programs, yet many do not seem particularly perturbed by prevailing patterns of power, property, and privilege. The consequences of such ambivalence are unnverving: The attainment of social equality remains an elusive goal, in the process exposing the existence of obstacles that deter and divert, despite mounting indignation over the (il)legitimacy of spiralling gaps in determining who gets what, and why.

Not surprisingly, social inequality as theory and practice remains as controversial an issue in Canada as contested a topic within sociology. Its centrality in defining patterns of power, privilege, and property (wealth/income) informs the design and dynamics of contemporary societies in general, Canada in particular. For some, income inequalities are the price to pay for living in a dynamic economy, with avenues to advancement that class/caste bound societies can only dream about (Noah 2012). For others, any sharp spikes in social inequality compromise the prospects for a cooperative coexistence. The social blight of inequality may prove the root cause of nearly all the social unrest and socio-economic problems that plague society (Finn 2011; Wilkinson and Pickett 2009). Personal costs may prove debilitating: Intensely unequal societies impose an impossibly high value on (a) acquiring money and possessions, (b) consuming conspicuously, (c) looking good in the eyes of others, and (d) wanting to be famous. Yet these same priorities put people at greater risk of depression, anxiety, personality disorders, and shame and humiliation. Wilkinson and Picket (2009:3) capture the contradiction of emotional bankruptcy at a time of material abundance when they write:

It is a remarkable paradox that, at the pinnacle of human material and technological achievement, we find ourselves anxiety-ridden, prone to depression, worried about how others see us, unsure of our friendships, driven to consume, and with little or no community life…we seek comfort in over-eating, obsessive shopping and spending, or become prey to excessive alcohol, psychoactive medicines, and illegal drugs.

Social costs in terms of fairness or dysfunctionality pose a potential hazard. Gaping social inequalities may prove unsettling enough to destabilize any society polarized by massive gaps in the midst of plenty against the backdrop of a ‘power to the people’. No less consequential for global survival is failure to staunch deepening inequities because of material deprivation, resource competition, corporate globalism, sectarian violence, environmental disasters, and international migration. Indifference toward the presence of world-wide social inequalities may well torpedo the foremost challenge of the 21st century, namely, the prospect of living together equitably with differences (UNHD Report 2010).

Inequalities Matter engages with this troubling reality by offering a critically informed and sociologically insightful analysis of social inequality in Canada. In emphasizing both the politics and paradoxes of social inequality, as well as their patterns and practices, the book begins with the premise that complex human societies are sites of unequal relations (a) with respect to allocations of wealth/income, power, and privilege, (b) along the identity lines of race, aboriginality, gender, and class (among others such as age or sexuality), (c) across those institutional domains experiencing an identity crisis of confidence, including health and education as well as media, work, and family, and (d) as a contested site involving competition for valued resources. Patterns of social inequality are known to be socially constructed rather than natural or normal, yet expertly concealed to distract attention from internal contradictions and hidden agendas (Hacker and Pierson 2010; OECD 2011). The persistence and pervasiveness of these inequities anchor the overarching theme of this book: Canada is a fundamentally unequal society in terms of power, privilege, and property (wealth and income). The politics of inequality reinforce the importance of explaining how these patterned inequities are created, expressed, and sustained, in addition to how they are challenged and transformed by way of government policy, institutional programs, ideological shifts, and minority assertiveness. In putting this theme to the analytical test, Canada remains the focal point of interest. Nevertheless, its placement within a global framework as a player beyond national boundaries is equally important in analyzing the politics of social inequality (Korzeniewicz and Moran 2010).

Social inequality as concept and reality is central to any sociological analysis of society (Sernau 2011). Virtually every topic within sociology – from the introductory to the study of institutions ( ie. family, media, criminal justice) to interactional level analyses - is informed by and framed around the domain of inequality either as a site in its own right or as complicit in reproducing societal inequality. Sociology has much to offer in unpacking the politics that underscore the patterns and paradoxes of social inequality in shaping peoples’ identities, experiences, and opportunities. Debates over the causes, consequences, characteristics, and cures of social inequalities demonstrate how sociology can coax fresh insights from time-tested conventions and routines. Controversies involving social inequality rarely question its existence per se. The focus instead is on those dimensions of inequality that are (a) unjustified because they focus on irrelevant characteristics, (b) persistent over time or space, (c) entrenched within institutional structures and foundational principles, (d) supported by ideological beliefs, (e) rooted in the exploitation of others and restrictive of their lifechances, and (f) unresponsive to treatment. That each of these dimensions continue to baffle and infuriate sociologists reinforces the elusiveness of answers or solutions. Still, the benefits of a sociological approach are inestimable:

  1. The study of social inequality is grounded in research results and empirical data instead of bombastic polemics or abstract theories.

(2) Attention is drawn to the social dimensions of inequality – from causes to cures. Instead of emphasizing the personal or psychological, a sociological lens reinforces the importance of situating social inequality within a societal framework, namely, how do the discourses and realities of social inequality impact on social reality and, conversely, how society and societal changes affect shifting inequality patterns.

(3) Social inequality is expressed not only in income (earnings) and wealth (assets) as well as privilege and power, but also in the domains of discrimination, political participation, institutional involvement, social exclusion, health and quality of life including vulnerability to violence, and violation of peoples’ rights (Green and Kesselman 2006; Wilkinson and Pickett 2009).

(4) Inequalities must be framed as multiple and complex and studied along intersectional and intrasectional (‘differences within differences’) lines to avoid either reducing one form of inequality to another or analyzing them in isolation from one another (see Walby 2009). Patterns of inequality are shown to intersect with other devalued markers of identity so that gender interlocks with race, class, and aboriginality to create overlapping hierarchies that amplify the exclusion or exploitation (a multiplier effect).

(5) Society and its institutions are neither neutral or passive. More accurately, society is gendered, racialized, and classed insofar as ideas and ideals about what is desirable and acceptable with respect to prevailing notions of gender, race, and class are deeply entrenched in society.

(6) There is nothing natural or normal about massive social inequalities despite vested interests to render them as inevitable and progressive. Rather gaping patterns of social inequality are socially constructed conventions created by those in positions of power to define what is normal, acceptable, and desirable. But what has been constructed, even if skillfully concealed behind a smokescreen of ideologies and mystifications, can also be challenged and transformed

As an introductory text, Inequalities Matter is mindful of the need to inform and inspire. This introduction offers the necessary building blocks - including definitions, relevant concepts and theories, recurrent debates, and contemporary issues - for analysis, assessment, and action. Emphasis is on fostering debates over the ‘what’, ‘why’, and ‘how’ so that references to social inequality resonate with student’s lived experiences. Instead of simply exhuming dry treatises or reciting sterile facts, Inequalities Matter enlightens by debunking those myths and misconceptions that serve to ideologically justify escalating patterns of social inequality (Heath 2009; Feagin 2011; Bush 2011). To achieve these goals, the concept of social equality is framed from a social problem perpective, with particular attention to questions of why it exists, what it looks like, what harm it inflicts, what needs to be done in minimizing this problem into manageable proportions. Last but certainly not least is attention to an equally important question: How to construct a more equitable society? Is this possibly utopian ideal to be achieved by tweaking the conventions defined by the rules or must it focus on changing the rules that inform conventions?

Ethical issues are raised as well since equality constitutes a core democratic value (Broadbent 2011). Is social inequaity good or bad? right or wrong? necessary or superfluous? Is it possible to justify the stratospheric salaries of sports superstars, high flying CEOs, and movie stars when millions grovel below the poverty line? Why is social inequality escalating to levels unseen since the Roaring Twenties? Do people really care that the super affluent are getting filthy rich while the poor are digging themselves into a hole (Cowan 2011)? Who is responsibility for solving the social inequality problem – governments or markets? In response to ethical concerns, the book capitalizes on a core sociological insight: Inequality is neither incidental to society nor the reflection of greedy individuals. Rather, society is inherently unequal because the foundational principles of its constitutional order (from values to structures) are ideologically slanted in advancing ruling class interests and realities of corporate capitalism. The end result is a systemic structural imbalance of power, privilege, and property that deprives Canadians of what they deserve (Fleras 2012). In others words, a comprehensive understanding of social inequality must go beyond a litany of problems, with its endless recital of negative facts. It must also address the concerns and contours of a more equal, just, and inclusive society – partly because its morally right in any progressive society that abides by human rights principles (Walker et al 2011).

The rationale behind Inequalities Matter draws on this simple yet crucial fact: the centrality of social inequality in peoples’ daily experiences and life chances is inescapable, even though few acknowledge their vulnerability to its effects, much less admit to their complicity in reproducing these inequalities that harm others (Schwalbe 2008; Sernau 2011). For some, social inequality and the unequal distribution of income and wealth possess redeeming value in creating richer lives and more productive growth (Noah 2012; 2011). For others, its an abomination and a blight on society (Wilkinson and Pickett 2009). Societies with greater income inequality tend to have higher rates of mental illness, obesity, violent crime, teenage pregnancy, and imprisonment rates. Or as bluntly put by Wilkinson and Pickett (2009) in their wildly popular book, The Spirit Level, social inequality may well prove the source of all social problems. The more equal a society, they argue, the better the range of social outcomes across a host of measures. In that sense, the title of this book is neither random nor arbitrary. Reference to the ‘matters’ in Inequalities Matter is a reminder that inequality is consequential because it causes something to happen – for richer or poorer, better or worse. And a more equitable Canada is not beyond the realm of the impossible, as movingly implored by the late Jack Layton, leader of the federal New Democratic Party:

Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment…[W]e can be a better, fairer, and more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done. My friend, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful, and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

Jack Layton, excerpt from a two page letter written to New Democrats and Canadians on Saturday August 20, 2011 – less than 48 hours before he died.

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Chapter 3 Class Counts: Social Class and Class Relations iconAnswer the following questions in writing and submit by end of class today. Finish the two page paper (see# 25) by end of class tomorrow

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