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No set of questions is more fundamental to sociology than those about inequality—what is it, why is it, how does it come about, and what can we do to change it? The theme for the 2013 meetings represents a promising new effort to address these core questions of our discipline. We will focus on coming to grips with how inequality, in all its multi-dimensional complexity, is produced in contemporary societies. To do so, we will focus in particular on linking micro and macro processes and perspectives on inequality.
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The first part of this task is to collectively interrogate the diverse range of inequality processes that characterize contemporary societies. These include the familiar processes of socioeconomic inequality but also the cross-cutting inequalities based on significant group identities, such as gender, race, ethnicity, or sexuality. They include culturally and interpersonally based forms of inequality such as social status in addition to material forms of inequality based on positions of power and resources.
We need to ask, what are the mechanisms by which each of these types of inequality is produced? Are the mechanisms that produce one type of inequality similar or different than those that create other types of inequality? Are the mechanisms that initially create a form of inequality different from those that sustain it? And, most importantly, how do these different types of inequality and ways of making inequality interpenetrate and affect one another to shape the social organization of society and life chances within it? Social status, for instance, is a form of social inequality based on shared cultural beliefs but that interpenetrates material systems of inequality and plays an important role in group identity based inequalities like gender and race. Through what processes does this work? How can we intervene in those processes? How do these processes interact to create the intersectionality that people experience in their everyday lives?
The search for mechanisms by which different types of inequality are “made” leads to my second and major goal for the program—to alert us to the need to look across micro and macro levels of analysis to find answers to essential questions about the mechanisms that create, that reproduce, or that potentially could change multiple forms of inequality. Processes at multiple levels of analysis typically work together to support or undermine durable patterns of inequality between individuals and between social groups. Institutional and organizational processes, for instance, shape, but also are shaped by, key interpersonal encounters within them. These in turn jointly shape, and are shaped by, individual selves and choices. Our task at these meetings is to locate the key junctures among these multi-level processes that provide the levers by which different sorts of inequalities among people and groups are systematically made or unmade in the contemporary context. This is the essential first step towards changing those inequalities.
—Cecelia Ridgeway, 2013 ASA President