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The Killing Fields of Inequality

Göran Therborn

ISBN: 978-0-745-67991-4 January 2014 Polity 180 Pages


Inequality is not just about the size of our wallets. It is a socio-cultural order which, for most of us, reduces our capabilities to function as human beings, our health, our dignity, our sense of self, as well as our resources to act and participate in the world. This book shows that inequality is literally a killing field, with millions of people dying premature deaths because of it. These lethal effects of inequality operate not only in the poor world, but also, and increasingly, in rich countries, as Therborn demonstrates with data ranging from the US, the UK, Finland and elsewhere. Even when they survive inequality, millions of human lives are stunted by the humiliations and degradations of inequality linked to gender, race and ethnicity, and class.

But this book is about experiences of equalization too, highlighting moments and processes of equalization in different parts of the world - from India and other parts of Asia, from the Americas, as well as from Europe. South Africa illustrates the toughest challenges. The killing fields of inequality can be avoided: this book shows how.

Clear, succinct, wide-ranging in scope and empirical in its approach, this timely book by one of the world’s leading social scientists will appeal to a wide readership.

Figures page vi

Tables vii

Introduction 1

I. The Fields 5

1. Human, Nasty and Short: Life under Inequality 7

2. Behind the Doors of Exclusion 20

II. Theory 35

3. Theoretical Cross-Draught 37

4. Three Kinds of (In)Equality and Their Production 48

III. History 69

5. Inequality and the Rise of Modernity 71

6. A Historical Six-Pack: Three Inequalities in

Global and National History 79

IV. Today’s Unequal World 101

7. Current World Patterns and Dynamics of Inequalities 103

8. Three Puzzles of Contemporary Inequalities 132

V. Possible Futures 151

9. Overcoming Inequality – Yesterday and Tomorrow 153

10. The Decisive Battlefields of Future (In)Equality 166

References 185

Index 202

"Covering the world, Göran Therborn shows how devastating are his three types of inequality (vital, existential and resource) and their mechanisms of reproduction (distanciation, exclusion and exploitation). Lucid, persuasive and learned The Killing Fields of Inequality is a must-read for those concerned about the most pressing topic of our time."
Michael Burawoy, University of California, Berkeley

"A great book. With a light touch, it provides a brief but comprehensive survey of all the main dimensions of inequality. Written with insight, commitment to social justice, and ability to see what matters, it becomes a book about social progress itself. It ends with a perceptive discussion of the next steps towards a more egalitarian future."
Richard Wilkinson, University of Nottingham
  • This book provides a timely and up-to-date analysis of global inequality in its many different forms
  • Therborn shows that inequality kills: millions of people around the world die premature deaths because of it
  • The lethal effects of inequality are apparent not only in poor developing countries but also in the rich countries of the West
  • Therborn argues that inequality is not just about money: it’s also human dignity, as human lives are stunted by the humiliations and degradations of inequality
  • The book is carefully documented with empirical data from both developed and developing countries
  • This book will be essential reading for students of sociology and politics and it will appeal to a wide general readership