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2024 Knox Lecture – Elizabeth Anderson (University of Michigan)

May 21 @ 5:15 pm - 6:45 pm

Title: “Categorical Inequality and the Economy of Esteem”
Abstract: Social theorists have had considerable empirical success in modeling social hierarchy in terms of “categorical inequality.” In this framework, entire social groups enjoy superior power, social esteem, and wealth over other groups: aristocrats over commoners, men over women, blacks over whites in the U.S., Brahmins over Dalits in India, etc. Theorists of “intersectionality” challenge such simple models by noting that everyone has multiple social identities that have non-additive interactions. This fact upsets attempts to reduce all inequalities to a linear system of social stratification. I shall argue that, once we incorporate Rousseau’s argument that the desire for superior esteem drives the creation of social hierarchy, even intersectional theories fail to capture the myriad ways social inequality resolves into much finer-grained social inequalities. I discuss some of the normative implications of these facts. Among these are that “privilege” frames (e.g., “white privilege”) are not just inaccurate and politically self-defeating, but grant far too much credence to the inegalitarian ideologies deployed to rationalize the very hierarchies that privilege frames aim to discredit. Rousseau had a better idea: to persuade people that even the purported winners of hierarchical systems ultimately become losers, because such systems have no internal brakes against ever-rising inequality.


May 21
5:15 pm - 6:45 pm
Event Category:


Adam Etinson


School III
St Andrews, United Kingdom + Google Map