This website is a product of the Working Group on Political Inequality within the Committee on Political Sociology, composed of the International Sociological Association Research Committee on Political Sociology (ISA RC 18) and the International Political Science Association Research Committee on Political Sociology (IPSA RC 6).

Mission Statement

The purpose of the Working Group on Political Inequality is to (a) publish research in first rate social science journals and high quality monographs on issues of political inequality, (b) to encourage members and affiliated professionals to write funding proposals to obtain grants, fellowships and other awards related to political inequality, (c) organize conferences and similar events dedicated to presenting first-rate research on political inequality, (d) facilitate the international collaboration of scholars interested in the field of political inequality, and (e) encourage the scholarly community to become official members of ISA RC18 and IPSA RC6.  Aims of the Working Group are consistent with the Statutes of ISA RC18 and the Objectives of IPSA RC6.

The Working Group (WG) is organized around the concept of political inequality as a distinct dimension of democracy and of social stratification and it is a subfield of political sociology. Political inequality has many definitions.  Social scientists have long argued that political power is a key dimension of stratification, yet few empirically analyze political inequality.  The few empirical discussions of political inequality neither explicitly discuss the theoretical or methodological implications of their concepts and measures nor how they can be applied cross-nationally.  This is a huge gap in our knowledge of how modern societies work.

The Working Group takes the 2004 American Political Science Association Task Force on Inequality and American Democracy as the starting point, and applies and modifies their concept of political inequality cross-nationally.  In their 2004 report, “American Democracy in an Age of Rising Inequality,” the APSA Task Force identified three foci of political inequality: citizen voice, government responsiveness, and patterns of public policy making. The upshot is that the disadvantaged are lesser represented and lesser involved in political participation, government officials are less inclined to be responsive to the preferences of the disadvantaged, and public policy often fails to address the needs of the disadvantaged.

The WG, led by Joshua K. Dubrow, mapped the concept and study of political inequality. Political inequality refers to unequal influence over decisions made by political bodies and the unequal outcomes of those decisions (Dubrow 2014). It is a form of power inequality whose domain is all things related to political processes.  It is a multidimensional concept – comprised of voice and response – that occurs in all types of governance structures, from social movement organizations, to local councils, to national governments, and to global governance.  Decades of research have clearly shown how position within the social, political and economic 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.

Political inequality bridges sociology and political science, political sociology and social stratification.  The challenge of the field of political inequality is to unite the vast knowledge we have about social stratification – its theories, its empirical research, its methodology – with the vast knowledge we have about politics found in political science and political sociology.  In essence, the challenge is to take what is currently fragmented and multidisciplinary and build a coherent interdisciplinary knowledge of concepts, measures, causes and consequences of political inequality.

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, the following key questions remain unaddressed:

(1) How do we define and measure political inequality, within and between nations?

(2) How does political inequality interact with other inequalities: economic, gender, racial and ethnic, educational, health and others?

(3) How politically unequal are modern democracies?

(4) What causes political inequality?

(5) What are the consequences of political inequality for individuals, societies and social structures?

History of the Working Group

The Working Group began as a Project on Political Inequality within CONSIRT, with Joshua Kjerulf Dubrow, Assistant Professor at the Polish Academy of Sciences and Program Coordinator for CONSIRT as the Principal Investigator.  In 2008, the Project produced a special issue of the International Journal of Sociology (IJS) on “Causes and Consequences of Political Inequality in Cross-National Perspective” and obtained a grant from the World Society Foundation to investigate the relationship between political inequality, level of democracy and economic inequality. In 2014, the WG’s published its first book, Political Inequality in an Age of Democracy: Cross-national Perspectives (Routledge) that mapped the growing field of political inequality studies and, for the first time, compared and contrasted various definitions and approaches. Since then, Josh has organized numerous sessions in international conferences on the topic.

Organizational Structure and Membership

The Head of the Working Group coordinates the pursuit of the goals outlined in the Mission Statement.  Scholars from the RC 18 and RC 6 research community, and others interested in political sociology and political inequality, are invited to join the Working Group.

The Working Group benefits from its affiliation with the Cross-National Studies: Interdisciplinary Research and Training Program (CONSIRT).  CONSIRT is a collaborative organization established by the Departments of Sociology and Political Science, The Ohio State University and the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, and the Graduate School of Social Research at the Polish Academy of Sciences.

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