I organized a general theme on political inequality for RC 18: Political Sociology at the World Congress of the International Sociological Association 2010 in Gothenburg, Sweden. Here is a link to the RC18 website’s call for papers.
General Theme: Political Inequality in Cross-National Perspective
(Convener: Joshua Kjerulf Dubrow, Polish Academy of Sciences)
Political inequality refers to structured differences in influence over government decisions and the outcomes of those decisions. Decades of research have clearly shown how position within the social structure impacts individual- and group-level political influence, such that political inequality interacts with a host of other inequalities, including those of gender, ethnicity, and class. Because political processes govern resource distribution, political inequality has profound consequences for the welfare of all people within society.
This general theme focuses on political inequality as a distinctive form of inequality and aims to examine methodological and substantive issues pertaining to it. While there are many clear definitions and well-established measures of other major types of inequality — e.g. economic and educational inequalities — that enable researchers to address basic empirical questions of, “how unequal is society?” and “what are the causes and consequences of this inequality?” there are few attempts to directly measure political inequality. As a result, crucial questions remain unaddressed.
Continuing the discussions initiated in the International Journal of Sociology special issue on “Causes and Consequences of Political Inequality in Cross-National Perspective” (2008), and inspired by the American Political Science Association’s “Task Force on Inequality and American Democracy,” this general theme seeks methodological, quantitative, and qualitative empirical papers that bridge sociology and political science to address crucial questions regarding political inequality in cross-national perspective.
Session 1: Consequences of Political Inequality
Papers in this session should address the question: What are the consequences of political inequality on peoples, societies and social structures? If political inequality is a distinctive form of inequality in its own right, consequences of its existence and durability must be demonstrated. Papers in this session should empirically examine how political inequality matters in the lives of disadvantaged groups, for the long-term health of democratic governance, for particular political policies and legislation, or for the establishment and durability of civil society and social movements.
Session 4: Measurement and Causality
Papers in this session should address one or more of the following questions: (a) How do we define and measure political inequality? (b) How politically unequal are modern democracies? and (c) What causes political inequality? From Pitirim Sorokin to Robert Dahl to Amartya Sen, among others, there is a strong theoretical base on which to support the contention that political inequality is a distinctive form of inequality as important as that of economic inequality. Yet, there is very little empirical work on how to operationalize its concepts, measure its extent, and identify its roots. Papers with a cross-national perspective should empirically examine forms of political inequality – such as underrepresentation of disadvantaged groups in government and unequal political participation, to name a couple – including how these forms endure over time and across societies, how they combine, or how they interact with other major forms of social inequality.