[Journals]: The Hidden Link between Inequality and Diversity


Contact: Lisa McKamy / 773-753-2294 / lmckamy@press.uchicago.edu
            Amidst the recent discussion on social inequality spurred by Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, a new article in Current Anthropology offers a contrasting take on this contentious issue. In the article, anthropologist Michael Jindra looks at the wider processes that contribute to inequality and offers a fresh and provocative statement on how culture contributes to inequality, while arguing that there are unrecognized dilemmas involving two major, contentious policy goals: diversity and equality. 
The article takes the reader on a tour around the world, from Europe to Australia, and to various lifestyle subcultures in the U.S.  In order to understand inequality, the article argues, one needs to understand how people live, especially the diverse lifestyles of people such as “occupational devotees,” those pursuing “leisure careers,” or those of different cultural groups. Some of these groups are more oriented to high achievement (and higher stress), while others to more balanced lifestyles, with more modest incomes. Lifestyle diversity has increased, but this has also contributed to stronger extremes of both wealth and poverty. The author is critical of scholars who ignore this dilemma, and highlights the few who recognize it. Political leaders are also unaware of the clash between these values, leading to pendulum-like swings in policy between encouraging diversity and battling inequality. At the community level, antipoverty nonprofits live the diversity-equality paradox in their crucial work with the poor, where the battle against poverty is most visible.
The article thus straddles and complements some of the more provocative current writing on inequality. On one side is Piketty’s argument, which is based on aggregate economic mechanisms. On the other side stands Amy Chua’s “Tiger Mother” thesis and her co-authored “Triple Package” argument which highlights the psychological mechanisms that purportedly spur achievement in specific ethnic groups. Jindra’s article, meanwhile, points at broader (sub)cultural processes to draw its conclusions.
After the controversy surrounding the “culture of poverty” thesis of the 1960s, policy-makers and intellectuals have largely avoided culture as an explanatory factor in how diversity and equality interact. This article makes it clear that a complex view of culture(s) is needed to truly understand outcomes like inequality.
Jindra, Michael. “The Dilemma of Equality and Diversity.” Current Anthropology 55:3. June 2014.
Current Anthropology is a transnational journal devoted to research on humankind, encompassing the full range of anthropological scholarship on human cultures and on the human and other primate species. The journal is published by The University of Chicago Press and sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. For more information, please see our website: journals.uchicago.edu/CA.   


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