The German Sight on Inequality and the Forgotten Actor? Doing Inequality - a Micro Sociological Approach on Social Inequality

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
CLM.3.05 (Clement House)
Falk Eckert, Universitšt†Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany
Laura Behrmann, Universitšt Bremen, Bremen, Germany
Andreas Gefken, Universitšt Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany
Within the last decades inequality maintains an everyday experience or rather common known phenomenon of market centered societies. Hitherto, as well as inequality generates structural differences between classes and therewith classes themselves, there are barely collective forms to cope with (e.g. social movements). As coping with inequality remains mostly an individual task, inequality is not an objective fact which is reducible and deducible on socio-economic relations. If we understand whereby social inequality is (re)produced, maintained or changed in our societies, it becomes possible and even plausible to think about causes and consequences of inequality, which broaden likewise our conceptual scientific and societal understanding. Focusing on the “making” of inequality, the micro social- and actor perspective brings the individual and interaction level in the middle of our investigations. Thus, social inequality, as a „societal reality“, is not a [pre-given] “objective fact”, but an “interactional matter of Doing” or even Undoing(Butler 2004; Hirschauer 2014). But what kind of results can an actor-focused research on inequality contribute to the field?

To answer this question in a first step, we conducted a meta-analysis of empirical research which attended a straight interactional perspective on phenomena of inequality. In generating the sample of research-articles, we are guided by the following question: Which actions, practices or interpretations (and in which situations) lead to an unequal distribution of resources or positions among the involved actors? For that purpose, we sighted German-speaking social science Journals[1], relevant publications and selected monographs in the period of 1995 to 2015. The approach is oriented on the proceedings of categorization and conceptualization (according to Glaser/Strauss 1967).

Our research asks: How is inequality in present research measured and interpreted in an actor- or individual perspective? Which gaps and blind spots in the present German research are  to state?  Which characteristics on present phenomena of inequality become visible and understandable according to an actor- and process perspective on inequality?

Finally, we generated a typology of four micro social processes of inequality. These are the processes of categorizing, evaluating, participating and relaying/passing. In our paper we discuss these processes with regard to current empirical based research and concepts as gender differences, institutional power of evaluation, social exclusion, and dissemination of wealth or poverty. On the one hand, these types of processes open the grasp on phenomena of social inequality and its contingent character in experiencing, freedom of action or coping, under consideration of social institutions. On the other hand, it becomes clear which understanding or ‘imaginations of inequality’ dominates social research on inequality and may contribute to their peculiar characters of reproduction.

[1] For example: Zeitschrift für Soziologie (ZfS), Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie (KZfSS), Berliner Journal für Soziologie (BJS).